Afghanistan App Offers Info Without Internet

May 17, 2010
by Rita Boland, SIGNAL Connections

Two U.S. Air Force captains at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) have developed a BlackBerry app to assist forces in Afghanistan. MobiAFG, short for mobile Afghanistan, enables warfighters to access the Program for Culture & Conflict Studies (CCS) Web site's geographical, cultural and other information about the country. The app can help keep troops up-to-date even in places with no Internet connection; once installed, it operates independently of communication networks when retrieving the resources.

Capt. Christopher Joers, USAF, explains that when warfighters "find themselves in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, mobiAFG will give them access to information about tribal analysis, provincial history and overviews, presidential elections, political developments, and academic publications and student theses. We would like to see mobiAFG become a standard application that is preloaded on SD [secure digital] cards and provided with each new BlackBerry device that military members receive." In addition to information on Afghanistan, the application will access pages on Pakistan and Central Asia.

The impetus for the development came from NPS Professor Thomas H. Johnson. He allowed Capt. Joers and Capt. Robert Davis, USAF, to create the technology instead of writing a standard 20- to 25-page research paper for the course he teaches called Contemporary Afghan Politics. Johnson runs the CCS Web site. The two company-grade officers worked on the project from January to March. "This was a project developed and designed strictly at NPS, but we could not have done it without the help of Research in Motion (RIM), the company that produces BlackBerry devices," Capt. Joers says. Howard Witt and Terry Poulias, both from RIM, provided technical advice and hardware support. The company also supplied two free BlackBerrys to test the application in real time. "This was absolutely necessary to ensure that the content was displaying correctly and would be easy to use for mobiAFG's future users," Capt. Joers states.

The application is available for download now on the CCS site. Users install the program using the BlackBerry Desktop Manager and then they only have to make a few clicks to pull the information they need. They can even convert files from PDF to JPG as required.

The focus of mobiAFG developers moving forward is to promote the application as designed for BlackBerry phones that run operating system version 5.0 or higher. "However, later on we may consider exploring if the application is suited for deployment on other platforms," Capt. Davis says.

To illustrate how troops can benefit from this application, the captains describe a potential-use scenario in which a military officer originally deployed to Headquarters International Security Assistance Force in Kabul is redirected to CampLeatherneck in HelmandProvince. The officer would need information on his new area, but may have no network connection. By employing mobiAFG, he can learn about the province despite the lack of communications infrastructure. "This app will provide the warfighters with an unprecedented ability to access a vast amount of country data in the palms of their hands while in the field and on the go," Capt. Davis says.