The US Army is finalising a software framework for Android-based devices that will let third-party software developers create interoperable mobile apps for combat soldiers. It's already being tested by the 82nd Airborne Division on a prototype device, dubbed the Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P) Handheld.

The software framework is called the Mobile/Handheld Computing Environment (CE). It guides application developers so the resulting code is secure, and will mesh with apps for other tactical systems, such as air support, logistics and armour, according to a news story by the Army News Service.

Originally created by MITRE, the technology is now being refined at the Army's Software Engineering Directorate in Huntsville, Alabama, in conjunction with the other JBC-P systems.

A goal of the project is to free up developers to create capabilities that can work across these different systems, to avoid the traditional problem of "stovepipe" - an application that provides a specific set of functions for the user, but can't work cooperatively with other applications.

A development kit will be released publicly in July 2011. Currently the Army is refining what it dubs "Mission Command Apps", which include mapping, tactical ground reporting and critical messaging among the group of mission command systems.

The Army envisions a core set of Army-created apps on these future mobile devices, with third-party apps being enabled, via the framework, to use the features of the core apps or to add to them. That represents a big shift in military thinking: a willingness to rely on commercial development for ideas, innovation and fast turnaround, and integrating that innovation in a structured way to meet the demanding requirements for battlefield operations.

For the hardware, the Army is currently evaluating prototypes for suitability, considering both government and commercial off-the-shelf models, with a ruggedised case or tactical cover.

The handhelds will be designed to make use of a range of military radio networks.

The next round of tests, both hardware and software, will be in October, during the Network Integration Rehearsal at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The rehearsal is one of four related events leading to a full-blown network evaluation at the brigade combat team level at the end of 2012.