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Star Trek technology to the modern battlefield

Fans of the original Star Trek television series will remember Commander Spock giving accurate directions to Captain Kirk to send mortar shells across a desert battlefield in the episode “Arena“. Now American soldiers have similar capabilities using their smart phones. An American officer spent $26,000 of his own money to develop an iPhone app that assists soldiers in mapping and plotting locations on the battlefield. Captain Jonathan J. Springer has spent the last six months taking the project, literally, from dream to reality.

The idea for a smartphone application to assist soldiers in combat came to Capt. Jonathan J. Springer in a dream last July, he said Monday. The 31-year-old, from Fort Wayne, Ind., has worked with programmers ever since to make the idea a reality.

Tactical Nav, which is expected to be available through Apple’s App Store next month, assists soldiers in mapping, plotting and photographing waypoints on a battleground and conveying coordinates to supporting units.

[snip]

“Since day one, I always believed that smartphones could be utilized by the U.S. military for combat purposes,” he said.

“Basically, the issue was the fact that these smartphones were being untapped by the army and I was motivated and determined to change that, even if it cost me my own money out of pocket to do so,” he added.

Military men can give a better explanation than I, but essentially the app displays map grid information and plots targets and waypoints, giving distance and direction in common military navigation terms. Essentially, it has the potential to turn any soldier using it into an observer who can direct units, artillery or airstrikes on a target. How much freedom individual soldiers will have to do that, of course, rests with the military brass.

Captain Springer probably deserves a medal for his efforts if the system works as well as he claims. Taking the initiative to develop the application is part of what differentiates him and other American soldiers from most other militaries in the world. Taking initiative, both on the battlefield and off, is a major reason why the US Military is so successful so often.

Captain Springer realized battlefield awareness could be improved using a device most soldiers were already carrying. In doing so, he may have given allied soldiers a new advantage over their Taliban opponents. It may not turn the tide of the war, but it may be a trigger for more smart phone battlefield innovation.

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