Reports this week revealed that U.S. defense contractor Raytheon, maker of the Patriot missile defense system, is developing software for soldiers that runs on Google's Android operating system. The software, called the Raytheon Android Tactical System, or RATS, has already been tested by some members of the U.S. Special Forces. It involves a social-networking type of display where soldiers interact as "buddies" and track each others' movements on the battlefield.
There's an App for That! Social Networking for Soldiers, Military-Grade Satellite Images
If RATS takes off, soldiers would carry smartphones with them into battle, says this Reuters report released on Wednesday. However, the phones would run identity recognition software so that enemy forces would not be able to unlock the device if they ever got their hands on one of them.
In addition to the soldier buddy tracking system described above, the Android OS could also support applications that deliver satellite images to the phone's large color touchscreen. Military satellites can focus in on minute features you can't see when using consumer-grade technology like Google Earth, so the software installed on RATS could potentially zero in on facial features or be used to read license plates.
The phones running these military-level Android apps wouldn't be standard Nexus Ones or Droids, of course, but specially designed handsets, each costing around $500 - the same price as unlocked consumer smartphones. So far, Raytheon has tested the software on handsets made by Motorola and HTC.
Raytheon would also design and install GPS tracking and encryption onto the phones, as well as communication software to provide coverage where signals don't exist.
Google was a Big Help, Says Raytheon
Raytheon credits Google for its help in the software's development. Says Mark Bigham, VP for defense and civil mission solutions at Raytheon, "We're trying to take advantage of smartphone technology to tailor for what soldiers may need in the field. Google has helped us push the limits of the phone."
Bigham also notes that Google would benefit financially if and when RATS became available to the defense market - a market that isn't just limited to the U.S. Besides the U.S. Army, Bigham says the Indian military is another potential customer for this Android-based technology.