DOD's Android effort begins to bear fruit

The Defense Department is working on a hardened version of the Android operating system that is expected to lead to broad use and even a military apps marketplace. How did such a seemingly consumer-oriented system for powering handheld devices find favor with the government's toughest customer?

It all started with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Work on the hardened Android kernel is a part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Transformative Apps program, which seeks to develop new DOD software applications through an innovative development and acquisition process, Mari Maeda, the program’s director, said at the IDGA Network Enabled Operations conference in Alexandria, Va., Jan. 25.

The program plans to create a military apps marketplace to encourage collaboration between the development community and users.

For the Android kernel, DARPA built a secure host system consisting of a customized version of the Android 2.2 operating system, Maeda said. Besides hardening the Android stack, the DARPA team also added data and data-at-rest authentication, and the ability for the software to check data integrity.

The work is beginning to pay off. The hardended version of the Android OS was evaluated at the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) during two events in the spring and fall of last year, held at Fort Bliss, Texas, and the nearby White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Other military services and branches of the federal government are also considering deploying Android devices. And DARPA launched a pilot program in May 2011 to test mobile devices running on the Android OS in Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, Maeda said.

As a part of the pilot, DARPA developed a dozen applications for use by the 3rd Brigade’s troops. The entire brigade was equipped with mobile devices by mid-fall of 2011, Maeda said. The new applications allow soldiers to load imagery and data onto their handheld devices. She added that six Army brigade combat teams are requesting the capability.

Read the full report on DOD's use of Android at our sister site, GCN.com.

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