Open source comes to Army Go Mobile program

The Army’s Maj. Keith Parker demos the Go Mobile kit to the GCN Lab.

The Army’s Maj. Keith Parker visited the GCN Lab this week to show how the Go Mobile program interfaces with the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) system.

It was an interesting meeting, with Parker explaining how the Army was using cell phones that soldiers were already carrying to create a secure network comprised of the Redfly companion, which is basically a dummy terminal without the cell phone brain, and a bunch of other things such as printers, projectors, goggles and even solar-powered charging kits.

As a technology guy, I was impressed with the types of devices that were shown, especially the tiny projector. But what impressed me more than anything was that every single application running in the Go Mobile Program was open source. Here we have the Army relying on open-source programs for a major network. Back when I was starting out at GCN in 1996 as a reporter, and later on in the lab around 1998, everything that I covered was pretty much custom-built for the military. I once attended a military simulation conference and they were showing huge computers that were built just for the military alongside some commercial off the shelf (COTS) equipment that was just coming into style.

The COTS equipment saved the military money because they were using commercial software to create military applications. But using open-source software is even better, because it’s free, assuming you can get some good applications built.

Parker said the troops themselves initiate a lot of the applications. Recruits going into the Army today are all very technically savvy, and many of them can even write advanced code, he said. With the military asking soldiers to contribute ideas for the AKO program, this just plays into that plan if soldiers can both suggest applications and also write them.

Moving from million-dollar customized applications to COTS was a big step. But as much ink as GCN has devoted to COTS over the years, this could be an even bigger move. When rank-and-file solders are able to write the very applications they are using, it kind of gives a new meaning to the Army of One. And it makes you respect our soldiers even more.