A new piece of military kit can take years to specify, test and acquire using a traditional procurement process, only to arrive already outdated. So, where possible, it is quicker and cheaper to buy commercial off-the-shelf items. These range from industry-standard components, like processor chips incorporated into military equipment, to products that consumers would recognise. Sometimes these are made more rugged, like Panasonic Toughbook computers, or converted for other uses, like Xbox 360 video-game controllers adapted to operate small robotic ground vehicles used for reconnaissance.
Apple’s iPod and iPhone are among the latest additions to a soldier’s kit. American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are using them for translation (one such device is pictured above) and to view intelligence information, such as pictures transmitted from unmanned reconnaissance drones. An iPhone app called Bullet Flight enables snipers to calculate range and trajectory for their shots, and built-in satellite-positioning allows local weather conditions to be taken into account. The basic version costs $3.99 and the full military one—which even calculates how the Coriolis effect from the rotation of the Earth will influence a bullet’s flight—costs $29.99.
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