By Mike Mount
Combat troops to four-star generals will soon be able to use cell phones or mobile tablets to quickly share classified information anywhere in the world.
The program soon to be rolled out by the Pentagon will allow the more than 600,000 Defense Department employees who use government-issued "smart" mobile devices to send top-secret information on those units or computers.
Until now, classified and other highly sensitive information has only been allowed to be shared by specially designated desktop systems.
Most Defense Department mobile device users peck away at Blackberries. Another 41,000 use Apple devices and a much smaller number use Android-based technology, according to statistics provided by the Pentagon.
The secure network would apply to all of those technologies.
"The application of mobile technology into global operations, integration of secure and non-secure communications, and development of portable, cloud-enabled capability will dramatically increase the number of people able to collaborate and share information rapidly," said Teri Takai, the Pentagon's chief information officer.
Mobile users range from ground troops in Afghanistan to the Joint Chiefs chairman to Pentagon policy wonks.
The motive for the Pentagon is to get a system in place as mobile technology increasingly advances.
The Pentagon eventually hopes to phase in a larger number of users and involve vendor competition to build a system that could possibly handle the agency's more than three million employees, officials said.
The initial system will allow mobile "smart" device users to run apps, e-mail and other functions securely even in remote and hostile locations.
The system will operate on commercial carrier networks that are able to handle classified data, according to Pentagon officials who briefed reporters on the plan.
Takai said the biggest challenge for the Pentagon has been to design a system that can fully leverage all of the uses of the "smart phones" in a way that allows the users to communicate securely.
"The challenge for the DOD is to balance the concern of cyber security with the need to have the capability of these devices," Takai said.