Form factor: Who wants to run around in a uniform with a laptop sewn into it? Not your average infantryman who already carries 80 lbs. The lighter, and smaller the computer, the better.
Power: The soldier in the above example will have to carry a lot of batteries for the notoriously power-hungry laptop. Form factor, power needs, and logistical bottlenecks are some of the reasons why so many military Request For Proposals (RFPs) have strict re - quirements for “SWaP”(Size, Weight and Power).
Ruggedness and reliability: Repairing computing platforms in the field is a major headache. Not only is it a logistical burden, but it is further complicated by security considerations. Also, a mission critical computer that can’t stand the hard realities of combat can actually put warfighters at risk.
Interoperability: The handheld de vice’s inability to work with biometric databases and programs is symptomatic of the numerous dedicated platforms that have some computing capabilities. There are computing platforms for targeting, robotic control, counter-mortar radar systems, sensor management, sensitive site exploitation, gas detection, testing, and so forth. What they all have in common is that virtually none of them work together. This has lead to a computer population explosion that challenges logistics, necessitates in creased training, and weighs down the already overburdened warfighter. I once heard one exasperated warfighter exclaim, “For Heaven’s sake! Don’t send us more computers!”
The search for the ideal front-line computing platform has generated several broad categories of approaches. One is the much-publicized initiative by the US Army to introduce smartphones. Small, light, and power-thrifty, their SWaP is highly desirable for a mobile soldier. Famous for the number and flexibility of their applications, one phone can be used for many purposes. Cheap enough to be considered disposable, smartphones, in theory, need no support for repair. I’m not sure anyone in the military will admit it, but I suspect that one reason the military has taken such a shine to cellular phones is the effectiveness that Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups have had in using them.
However, the smartphone is a partial solution at best for front-line computing. For one thing, like other small form factors, such as PDAs, smartphones can only support weak processors. Although developers have been successful in pushing the limits of what a smartphone can do, it is hard to imagine them running the kind of data-heavy applications that were mentioned earlier. Furthermore, virtually all current programming would have to be rewritten for this platform.
Another difficulty of smartphones is that their super-light form factor is the antithesis of “ruggedness.” Yes, they can be replaced economically, but a soldier doesn’t want that chore in the middle of a firefight.
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