Following the lead of the commercial aviation industry, part of the U.S. military is making plans to switch their aviation crews from large and heavy paper navigation charts and technical manuals to digital versions stored on tablet devices. While the initial plans called for exclusive use of the iPad for this purpose, new statements indicate that the Apple tablet may have some competition in military aviation.
The Air Force Special Operations Command stated (PDF) in a December 29, 2011 notice that, following three months of product evaluation, it planed to purchase over 2,800 iPad 2s to act as electronic flight bags for its crews. The Air Force felt that, of all the tablets they tested, only the iPad 2 “outmatched all peer competitors — not only meeting but exceeding AFSOC mission specifications.”
By mid-January 2012, however, things had changed. As reported by Nextgov, Maj. Kristi Beckman, a spokeswoman for the Air Force, stated that Special Operations Command has now decided to consider other options in addition to the iPad 2. “During our initial evaluation, the iPad was the best available commercial off-the-shelf product for our needs. We are, however, platform agnostic and fully expect improvements across the commercial market to develop in a variety of areas that will increase our capabilities,” Maj. Kristi said.
While the iPad and its successor have remained the dominant platform since the product’s launch in 2010, each year brings new, stronger, and cheaper competitors. While the general consensus is that the iPad remains king, cuts to the defense budget coupled with the increasing quality of iPad competitors may be the reason for the Air Force’s move away from iPad exclusivity.
Regardless of which company’s tablet device eventually accompanies Air Force crews in flight, the move to digital navigation maps and technical manuals will save the military significant amounts of money on fuel and printing costs. It will also increase crew safety as updated charts and technical data can be delivered more quickly.