A smartphone app developed by Captain Johnathan Springer of the US Army combines a compass, a map and a camera, includes the ability to locate enemy gunfire and call for backup, and has been tested positively in the battlefield. And he hasn’t received a dime in government funding.
Safely returned from a year-long tour in Afghanistan, US Army captain Johnathan Springer tells BBC Newsbeat about losing two friends in a firefight in Afghanistan’s Pech River Valley. “They took a rocket,” he said. “Died instantly.”
The loss of his fellow soldiers inspired Captain Springer to design a solution to prevent more soldiers’ deaths in the future. His solution comes in the form of a smartphone app—one that combines the navigation tools of the modern soldier with the pinpoint accuracy of GPS technology, proving more efficient and less costly than the tools currently in use, says Springer.
“As a fire support officer, I take into battle a compass, binoculars, a map, a protractor, a GPS device – a secondary GPS device in case one fails – and batteries,” Springer explains. “It combines all these components, and throws it into just the one app.”
Springer claims he’s personally tested the app against “everything currently in use in Afghanistan,” finding it just as accurate and with the ability to pinpoint exact coordinates of enemy gunfire.
Yet, even with our mind-boggling defense spending, Springer’s device finds itself without government funding. After e-mailing the Army to ask for possible grants or financial support for the $30,000 he personally spent developing the app, he was granted a cold shoulder. “They said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have the funds right now,’” says Springer. The military didn’t respond to Newsbeat’s requests for a statement.
Strange, considering the US government’s annual defense budget currently sits at a hefty $700 billion, a commanding sum over next in rank China’s $100 billion per year. Surely there’s a few million at most that could be set aside to support Springer’s Tactical NAV advancement, if the app is as battle-ready as Springer insists, of course. The same government that lost track of $9 billion in Iraqi reconstruction funds just couldn’t scrape together enough change for the captain’s efforts.
Then again, Springer isn’t a conglomerate with a full-time lobbying staff.
While the government obviously does have the money for new technology development, it’s already heavily invested in DARPA‘s efforts, whose military innovations have since assimilated into civilian life, like GPS and the Internet. It’s an interesting role reversal, however, seeing a soldier developing military-use technology from a common civilian tool, the
trusty iPhone. The everyman invention is at the heart of American ingenuity, and it’d be nice to see the government reach out to Springer and support efforts that could, according to Springer, be well worth the investment.
Captain Springer has resorted to selling the app on the iTunes store for $5.99; a modest sum for what sounds like an invaluable tool to a young, technology-trained infantry. Most soldiers carry smartphones while on deployment and are accustomed using apps, so there’s no need for complicated training in its use. Anyone who can operate a smartphone and is familiar with GPS coordinates can use the app, and some reviewers on iTunes note its usefulness in civilian life as well.
At the peak of the Iraq war George Bush once caught flack for spending on the war but being too cheap to make sure all soldiers had adequate bullet-proof vests. Nearly a decade later, smart-bomb makers continue to get richer with stubbornly high defense spending, but soldiers still have to shell out $6 for Springer’s app.
“I only sell it to try to make back the money I invested,” says Springer. “I don’t see dollar signs. I see soldiers’ lives.”