"To most soldiers, it sounds almost too good to be true," say Joe Gould and Michael Hoffman in Army Times: Uncle Sam is moving toward giving every soldier an iPhone, Android handset, or other smartphone as standard equipment, paying their monthly phone bill, and even giving them an allowance for apps. Is this just a recruitment ploy, or do combat troops really need iPhones?

How will smartphones help soldiers in combat?
By letting all troop levels access real-time intelligence, including photos from aerial drones and constantly updated maps showing the location of friends and enemies. The Army has also developed an "augmented reality" app for the iPhone called Soldier Eyes, which could help soldiers see hidden dangers and other information by looking at the landscape through their phone's camera.

Does the Army already use smartphones in battle?
Not yet, but a brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas, is already training with them and will begin field testing in February. The Army won't deploy the phones on a wide-scale basis until it irons out some kinks, including any loopholes that might allow prying eyes to access the network. "Army officials remain concerned [about] enemy forces hacking into the phones, but don’t want that fear to paralyze the [program]," says Lt. Gen. Michael Vane.

Why iPhones and Droids?
Portability and power, says Rickey Smith, the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center-Forward. But, he says, "we're not wedded to a specific piece of hardware," adding that the Army is also open to "Palm Treos... or whatever else is out there." Mike McCarthy at the Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss adds, "We're looking at everything from iPads to Kindles to Nook readers to mini-projectors," too. Under current proposals, soldiers would be able to pick their own smartphone.

Still, iPhones and iPads... is the Army a Mac?
Army officials said in May they are drawn to Apple's "it just works" philosophy, says Apple Insider, and they visited Apple headquarters in California in March to talk about future products the Army might use. The Army has also used custom iPods for translation in the field and sometimes uses Mac hardware in its IT infrastructure to deter hacking.

Won't this be kind of expensive?
Yes, but the Army says that modifying existing consumer gadgets is much cheaper than developing its own technology and devices. If the Army bulk-purchases phones, making only minor tweaks and "ruggedizing" the handsets, it predicts a per-unit cost on pair with retail prices. And like any consumers, says Vane, "the challenge is just figuring out how we pay for the minutes each month."

Sources: Army Times, Apple Insider, PC Magazine, Los Angeles Times