Morale: Cell Phone Redefines Duty Time


May 26, 2024: The U.S. Army, or at least the 4th Infantry Division in Colorado, has ordered its commanders and supervisors to limit email or text messages sent to the troops during non-duty hours. These are normally between 5 PM and 6 AM. The restrictions were issued because troops were complaining about constant interruptions via cell phone messages while off duty. This was particularly onerous for married soldiers with young children. The 4th Division commander wanted his troops to regard off-duty messages from commanders as important, not a constant annoyance. Commanders are reminded that twenty years ago, before cellphones, the army got along fine without them. In many ways, cellphones has introduced more problems beyond off duty harassment. In combat zones troops are warned to keep their phones in airplane mode. That means not broadcasting any signal. Those signals can, and often are detected by enemy ELIT (Electronic Intelligence) equipment and reveal targets for missile or artillery attacks.

The problems the 4th Infantry Division had with cellphones were just another disruptive side effect of cellphones for military units. Commanders learning how to get the most out of cellphones while avoiding problems has been a work-in-progress for over a decade. In 2007 iPhone, the first modern cellphone, was introduced. In 2009 the first Android phone hit the market. Android was designed to be manufactured by numerous firms, each of them including a different set of features. Some Android phones had features similar to the iPhone, but others had less and a few had even more features. Militarized Android phones are an example of this.

In 2016 U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) adopted some iPhones to use in the field instead of the Samsung Android phones that they had been using for years. This was because the special ATAK (Android Tactical Assault Kit) and military grade security software that turns a civilian cellphone into a military one had been adapted to work on the iPhone. SOCOM noted that ATAK on an iPhone 6S was much faster and reliable than on the Samsung phones. The South Korean military also uses ATAK equipped cellphones and also noted the improvements. South Korea is where Android phone manufacturer Samsung is from and Samsung quickly became the largest Android phone manufacturer in the world. Samsung also worked with the South Korean military to develop a specialized military Android phone. South Korean troops were the first to get these and the thousands of American soldiers still stationed in South Korea noticed. Samsung saw the United States and most of the world’s armed forces as a market for their new militarized phones.

ATAK has been in use since 2010 and there is now a civilian version available. ATAK is a collection of apps aimed at the needs of soldiers and people operating in rural areas. ATAK capabilities include Online and offline mapping, Web Browser, JavaScript, Collaborative mapping, Location marking, sharing, history, Chat, file sharing, photo sharing, video sharing, streaming, foot or vehicle navigation, Altitude profiling between locations, cell phone tools, Wi-Fi, civilian radio controls, Skydiving tool, Hunting, Fishing, Ornithology and Wildlife Site Survey. In addition the military version contains a Site Survey Tool, Targeting, precise geo-location, Runway Survey Tools, Military radio controls, messages, and interface. All this is in addition to special apps that some countries develop for their armed forces.

Ever since the smartphone first appeared in 2007 the American military has been working on a combat cellphone and, after several special bits of software were developed, these devices were soon widely used, especially by SOCOM operators. It 2012 the U.S. Department of Defense received SE Android, a military grade version of the Android operating system. In 2013 the American NSA (National Security Agency) has released many of these new security features for use in civilian versions of Android. Initially, all NSA wanted to do was create a version of the cell phone/tablet Android operating system suitable for combat use. SE (Security Enhanced) Android is based on a SE Linux that the NSA developed in 2000. NSA has been active for decades in hardening PC operating systems. Since Android is based on Linux, the NSA had a head start in creating SE Android and updating the new version of Android with better security for all users.

With most of the smartphones out there running Android, the NSA (National Security Agency) saw a national security interest in obtaining better security for the Android operating system. While the SE Android has features only the military needs (or would use) many of the basic security elements of SE Android are extremely useful for all Android users. Most of the security features for the latest (4.3) version of Android were originally developed for SE Linux years before the first smartphones showed up. Meanwhile Apple kept the iPhone competitive with more secure versions of IOS (iPhone operating system).

SE Android was the last key element the U.S. Army needed to move commercial smartphones and tablets onto the battlefield. The troops have been clamoring for a combat smartphone and in 2011 the army began field testing the Atrix smartphone and Galaxy tablet. Both use Android and are designated as NWEUD (Nett Warrior End-User Device) by the military. When SE Android was combined with ATAK there was finally a combat cell phone the troops found useful enough to use in combat zones.

Over the next decade cellphones were designed for military use and basic military standards were established with MIL-STD-810H. By 2023 these militarized phones were rugged and contained useful military options like laser range finders, a thermal (heat sensitive) camera, sound level meters, VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) detector and the ability to send a text message when not in range of a cell tower. The VOC detects high concentrations of dangerous chemicals. Some of these concentrations cannot be detected by smell. VOC also detects chemical weapons in small quantities and warns troops to either put on their gas masks or get out of the area.

Wireless handheld phones have been a goal of telephone manufacturers for over a century. To make this happen several new technologies had to be invented and common communications standards established. The first handheld radio communications device was the U.S. Army SCR-536, popularly known as the walkie-talkie. Before the end of the war over 130,000 of these 2.3 kg radios were produced. The SCR-536 had a range of about 1.6 kilometers on land and five kilometers over open water. Forests and other vegetation as well as hills and structures shortened the range. There was no volume control and batteries lasted about twenty hours. There was only one radio frequency and that could only be changed by Signal Corp technicians using special equipment. Relief from most of these problems came in 1943 with the introduction of the 16 kg SCR-300. It was carried as a backpack and used by the soldier carrying it or someone else behind or next to the SCR-300. Range was up to 13 kilometers, batteries lasted 40 hours and 41 frequencies were available. The normal range in combat was about five kilometers. Britain adopted SCR-300 in 1947 as Wireless Set No. 31.

Nearly a million soldiers used SCR-536 and SCR-300 during World War II. These two radios received a lot of media attention during and even more after the war as manufacturers sought to design and build commercial versions of these two radios. That required and led to the establishment of national and international standards for wireless communications. Car radios were popular, if expensive and limited to where and when they could be used. Despite that the communications companies noted that there was a huge demand for mobile communications. This led to more standardization and capacity for more simultaneous users over a wide, eventually worldwide, area. In 2014 56 percent of Americans used a cellphone. A decade later it was 96 percent.



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