By Carlo Muñoz - 11/01/12 06:57 PM EDT
Information technology specialists at the Pentagon are looking to industry to develop a secure communications system that can manage and encrypt up to 162,000 iPhones, iPads and Android systems, according to The Washington Post.
While Apple and Android have increasingly been taking up a larger portion of the civilian market, DOD has traditionally shied away from those systems due to their inability to provide secure connections for the department's classified communication networks.
Until now, the department and the majority of U.S. government agencies worked exclusively on RIM BlackBerry smartphones, due to the company's ability to secure communications on DOD classified networks.
But as government departments begin to embrace the more advanced, touch-screen-based smartphones with Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems, DOD's recent contract will allow the Pentagon to follow suit.
Pentagon officials plan to retain a number of the thousands of BlackBerry smartphones already being used by DOD and military personnel, according to the Post.
However, by integrating Apple and Android-based products into that pipeline, Pentagon civilian and uniformed personnel will now be able to access certain applications that BlackBerry systems cannot.
Army officials have begun to integrate Android-based systems into battlefield units as part of its new combat communication system, known as NetWarrior.
Last October, the Army rolled out what it calls an "end user device" for the NetWarrior system, which is essentially an Android or iPhone-like smartphone carried by soldiers that runs off the military's Joint Tactical Radio System.
Once fielded, soldiers will be able to access an "app store" that will let them securely download a wide swath of programs into either the smartphone or tablet version of the system service, officials said at the time.
Those apps will let U.S. troops call in fire support missions, plan and coordinate operations and track friendly forces — all with the swipe of a finger.
The Army has 60 working prototypes of the new system currently going though testing now. Half are based on the smartphone platform, while the other half are based on an iPad-like tablet.
Those prototypes, built using commercially-available products hardened to withstand the rigors of combat, the final versions of the system will be built to military specifications and run off of secure DOD networks.