We've written before about the Army's experiments with how it might use smartphones or tablet computers on the battlefield, but it's starting to look behind the curve: Consumer-grade mobile devices are already in service elsewhere in the military, including the war zone. Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson use Apple iPads -- a whole crate of 'em, by the looks of it -- to help manage geographical information in the ship's combat information center. In the latest example, from Afghanistan, Marine Corps aviators are also using them to help with navigation.
According to this official story, a few squadrons in the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) have been using iPads to carry their charts; it's easier to load up all the documents and view them on the tablets than it is to deal with the paper copies. It might sound like an expensive convenience, but it makes a lot of difference when you're strapped into your Whiskey Cobra gunship:
“There are hundreds of thousands of buildings in the area of operation. Essentially there is no room to carry all of the maps in the small cockpit of the Cobra. It can be a real inconvenience to pull them all out and reference them during flight,” explained Capt. Michael Christman, an AH-1W Cobra pilot with Marine Light Attack Squadron 267.“Instead of scanning sheets of paper, we type in a sector name or a four-digit grid coordinate and the iPad will center on the desired area,” said Blankenbicker.The story goes onto explain that the Marines' use of the iPads was something the pilots came up with themselves, not an initiative from higher up. Naval Air Systems Command initially was skeptical about the crews using the tablets this way, but now the authorities say they're on board. It's a dream story for the mobile device industry, even if the Marines don't necessarily need the iPads' mobile-network capability for the ways they're using them. If mobile-device manufacturers can get troops hooked on using their products when they're on duty as much as they do off, it could lead to lucrative new deals with one of the biggest customers of all: Uncle Sam.
Blankenbicker said another advantage of using the tablet over traditional maps is the pilots’ ability to mold its functions to whichever platform they are flying.
“We are not forced to use only one or two configurations or applications for the entire wing,” said Blankenbicker. “The iPads can be tailored to each platform. The ability to remain flexible is what has made innovations like this so useful.”