Friday, April 16, 2010

All Your iPads They Belong to Us

Department of Defense admits its acquisition process wastes taxpayer dollars, adds years to the development of useful gear, and lags in adopting innovative technologies. Its answer?

In a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency solicitation notice, we find out that the answer is ipads and Apple apps.

In today's military, handheld systems are characterized by a tight integration of specialized hardware with a narrowly focused software suite. Most of the handheld devices are heavily optimized for a particular task and are ill-suited for general-purpose use. A soldier's radio, for example, has very limited data capability and essentially no multimedia capability. Current language translation devices support neither messaging nor collaboration of any form. This inflexibility in function is further exacerbated by the military's own acquisition process, a process that can take years to complete and involves an unwieldy linear process of formal requirements definition, technology development, and system certification. The current process adds considerable costs and introduces schedule delays to the deployment of new, cutting-edge technologies. Furthermore, there is a real risk that these very technologies will be obsolete by the time they are in the warfighter's hands.
Phew! It's about time they told us the truth.

A transformation in technical approaches and business processes is called for. DARPA seeks to overcome current limitations and give our military ready access to the leading edge capabilities.As envisioned by DARPA, this transformation will:

• Result in the rapid development of applications and system enhancements that keep up with the fluid demands of warfighter on the ever-changing battlefield;

• Demonstrate both affordability and scalability that enable pervasive use, targeted especially among the end-users at lower levels in the military echelon;

• Encourage and support open competition among a broad set of suppliers in the military applications development process; and

• Support new business models and streamlined processes to incentivize a broad community of suppliers.

The primary purpose of this RFI is to discover sources of commercial and non-commercial apps with potential relevance to the military specifically the national security community more generally. These apps may be used in situations such as the tactical battlefield, for humanitarian assistance, and in disaster recovery efforts. DARPA's initial interest will focus on apps developed on the iPhone or Android platforms that can be used today with little or no additional research and development expenses. Application providers may already have offerings in the commercial marketplace that could be adapted to meet these needs.

In order to meet this objective, DARPA extends an invitation to the developers of currently existing apps encouraging them to submit a whitepaper about their product offerings.