So why can't we just equip the military with Apple iPhones and save a lot of time and money networking our armed forces? Apparently those developing the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS, or "Jitters") get asked that a lot when folks see the billions of dollars and the years it will take to equip the US military with next-generation web-enabled radios.
Much harder than it seems, says Rick Baily, who is leading Boeing's bid for the next big chunk of JTRS - development of the airborne, maritime and fixed station (AMF) radio. And here's his explanation:
Infrastructure - JTRS has no cellphone towers to anchor the network or IT specialists to configure the radios. Where forces gather, an ad hoc network will form itself and each node - from a soldier to an aircraft - will be able to join or leave at will.
Environment - JTRS radios have to work in vibration, temperatures and other extremes that are "the next level on from Toughbooks".
Security - JTRS has to meet information assurance standards set by the National Security Agency that are "way beyond" the commercial methods used to protect personal information such as banking details.
Baily also argues the IT industry has spent billions to bring us things like the iPhone, but is able to amortise that cost over tens of millions of customers. The billions that JTRS will cost has to be spread over tens of thousands of users.
Bottom line - iPhones are cool, but if you are in the desert, moving fast under fire, and need to be absolutely sure no-one has hacked into your network maybe JTRS is what is needed. But commercial technology advances relentlessy, so you never know...