By Kevin Fitchard Apr. 16, 2012

Android is still the smartphone platform of choice for the world’s consumers, but it may also be the ideal operating system for the world’s armies, navies and security agencies. The versatile, open – and free – OS already has most of the necessary pieces in place to power the most sophisticated defense and government applications. 

The only thing Android is missing is a heavy layer of security and ruggedized hardware to optimize it for military purposes, according to Finnish wireless engineering firm Elektrobit. Last week, National Defense Magazine broke a story on Boeing’s development of a highly secure Android smartphone for the aerospace and defense industries, but this isn’t the first time the Google mobile OS has been tapped for military use. Elektrobit has customized Android for military and public safety purposes and is selling that reference design to defense contractors, which then use it to build highly secure smartphones tailored for the military. One such contractor is Raptor Identification Systems, which is tailoring smartphones and tablets with biometric identification capabilities for the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies. According to Jani Lyrintzis, VP of special Terminals at Elekrobit, 80 percent of the work necessary to build a military-grade smartphone is already available in the Android kernel. Elektrobit completed the software upgrades necessary by adding a highly secure middleware between the applications layer and the operating system, which prevents apps and users from compromising governments’ understandably strict security policies, Lyrintzis said. The rest is industrial design: Phones in the field need to be ruggedized to protect them from the elements and extra hardware – such as Raptor ID’s biometric scanners – need to be added depending on their intended use.

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