Jul 07 2011

Marines Seek Handhelds

Security and affordability rank high in planned device procurement.

When asked about the factors that will determine what kind of handheld devices the Marine Corps will buy in a planned procurement, Capt. Joshua Dixon’s first answer comes quickly: “Price. We have to be able to afford them.”

Dixon, a student of the Naval Postgraduate School, is conducting the search for the Marine Corps Systems Command. Among other requirements, the devices must come in multiple form factors, must be able to run commercially available mobile operating systems, and must be able to access multiple wireless networks as well as the Internet and secret and nonclassified military networks. 

In researching numerous Marine Corps procurements for handhelds, Dixon found more than 1,000 different requirements for the devices. He is trying to establish a common set of requirements that will make such acquisitions easier and more uniform. “I don't want to create a Marine Corps–specific handheld,” he told the audience recently at the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement's Command and Control Summit in Arlington, Va. “I want a handheld that the Air Force can use, that the Army can use.”

Last month, Dixon wrote a request for information seeking input from industry on how the Marines can buy handheld devices that meet the military’s need for security and utility without breaking an already stretched-thin budget.

Going Commercial

The Marines want to break from the Department of Defense’s previous practice of “hardening” commercial handhelds for sensitive communications. By the time the devices receive these security enhancements and then become certified and accredited as secure (a process that takes two years), they’re generally obsolete. Instead, Dixon intends to speed up procurement and keep costs down by buying commercial handhelds and making security improvements to the software, rather than the hardware.

“The idea is to provide a high level of assurance through a separation kernel and still maintain a high level of functionality through innovative modern operating systems (i.e., guest OSes),” Dixon wrote in the RFI.

While the Marines plan to buy commercially available handhelds, Dixon says the military wants to be able to attach a device that will allow the phones to connect to tactical waveforms, extending their usability.

The Systems Command expects to issue a request for proposals later this month that it hopes will identify devices that meet its requirements.



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