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Can the Army's smartphone dreams endure?

The Army's new chief of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, gave every indication this week that he's on board with the service's plans to possibly equip every soldier with a smartphone, or at very least continue looking into how the service can use off-the-shelf gear to help with networking the force. More basically, Dempsey said, he gets it: These young people today are all about their mobile devices. "Dempsey knows, based on his own children's lives, that the new generation wants to sit in the middle of an open field with a smartphone, be by themselves, but be connected to the world," as this Army story put it.

The Army has been struggling for years to get better at networking its soldiers, vehicles and commanders, and the brass is also interested in using mobile devices to help with navigation, sending back intel reports, and training in the field. As you read here on Buzz back in December, it's easy to picture the telecom industry's reaction to all this: Imagine Daffy Duck's eyes turning into dollar signs and bulging out of his head, along with a big cash register sound effect. A smartphone for every soldier -- or even just for units that are training or deploying -- could mean billions of dollars in iPhones or Android devices, and billions more dollars in network usage. And it could bring new companies, including Verizon, Apple or  HTC, say, into business as direct-line defense contractors.

That's all several steps down the road. First the Army has to figure out how it'll use smartphones in its network strategy and then determine which ones it could buy -- and as all that is taking place, service officials will be going to Congress to justify their plans to spend all this money. The telecom industry has lots of friends on the Hill, but it's also easy to imagine that lawmakers could balk at major new costs that go on forever, especially if soldiers are permitted to use the phones for personal use as well as when they're on duty.

And you know how the services are: If every soldier has a sleek new iPhone, pretty soon the Air Force  might go to Congress and say, "Y'know senator, I really think equipping every airman with a mobile device will facilitate key communications capabilities across the broad spectrum of operations, and that is absolutely critical to our warfighters."

So in today's political environment, when President Obama has said he wants DoD to cut $400 billion over the next ten years, can the Army's smartphone plans survive?

 

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