Center for Strategic Communication

An Air Force cadet checks out a video of a refueling operation on his smartphone during a visit to McConnell Air Force Base. Photo: U.S. Air Force

Manuals are so analog. The Air Force is thinking about turning some of its training programs into apps for reservists’ smartphones.

According to a recent call for industry input, the Air Force Reserve Command’s Development and Training Flights want to “obtain a smartphone application that allows all participating Reserve members the opportunity to engage in training and gaming activities with other members.”

It doesn’t look like full training manuals would be digitized. Suggested functionality includes apps to teach “Air Force Core Values,” and “Fitness and Nutrition Principles,” as well as games to memorize M-16 components and military songs (“Name that Military Tune”). Another suggestion is an location app to help reservists carpool. There’s even a call for “Siri-like” tools to “motivate” airmen during their workouts. But the effort is reminiscent of the Army’s efforts to make its training materials accessible to any soldier with a smartphone.

That said, this is something of a tentative step for the Air Force. Unlike the Army’s 2010 “Apps for the Army” contest, the Air Force isn’t looking for airmen who moonlight as app developers. Instead, it’s seeking industry feedback on “industry technical capabilities, common industry standards, the latest technological advances, timelines for adaptation and/or integration, and any other common commercial terms and conditions related to mobile application.”

In other words, the Air Force reservists are in the early stages of deciding whether such training apps are feasible, let alone desirable. They’re not looking at iOS, Windows Mobile or Android yet.

One place the command might turn is to its colleagues in the Air Education and Training Command. Last year, the command rolled out U.S. Air Force Airman Fundamentals, a free iPhone and Android app that gives a bare-bones sense of what the Air Force is like, from video demos of exercises airmen are required to perform to a scroll of lyrics to the Air Force’s official song. (Although there’s clearly room for improvement: the lyrics are unaccompanied by any music, so you wouldn’t know how to sing them.) There’s also an app that draws on the Air Force personnel database to make sure airmen can keep track of their families in a natural disaster.

Still, any tentative step from the Air Force into the mobile app world is indicative of a broader military trend. The Army has gone all-out on a mobile data network, and has been playing with various smartphones for three years now, complete with a forthcoming Army-specific app store. The Navy will put a 4G wireless network aboard three ships by the end of the year to test how mobile devices enable sailors and marines to do their jobs even far out at sea. The Marines are asking themselves what smartphones can do for leathernecks, too.

Training apps for Air Force reservists remain a long way from any battlefield use – and probably for good reason. If you shouldn’t tinker with your phone while driving, you definitely shouldn’t while flying.