For the last 20 years, the US military has been trying to build a new custom communications gadget system for soldiers in the field. It's cost half a billion dollars so far. But now the Strategic Operations Command unit of the army is saying screw it, we'll just use Android phones.

Last week, the SOCOM asked coders to create a suite of applications for keeping commandos linked up while they're out on missions. The software should include chat functions, file transfers, video display and "multi-touch whiteboarding aka John Madden tool." SOCOM calls it the Tactical Situational Awareness Application Suite, or TactSA, and it has to work in low-connectivity areas -- the middle-of-nowhere places you'd expect to send the military's most elite troops. It's got to be peer-to-peer, encrypted "at the application level" and able to recover from "network outages and substantial packet loss."

So they're bypassing a lot of Pentagon bureaucracy and calling on the free market to build software better, faster, cheaper.

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