A search for "U.S. Navy" on the Google Play store turns up dozens of mobile apps, everything from training simulators to hospital corpsman qualifications to fitness guides. Which of these are official Navy releases? It's anyone's guess.
"When an app is published to one of the app stores, it appears under the developer's name. If somebody supporting the Navy under a [Department of Defense] contract publishes an app for us, it will appear under their name. So there is no way for a sailor to just say: 'Show me Navy applications,' " said David Driegert, assistant program manager for mobility in PMW-240, the Navy's Sea Warrior Program.
In an effort to clear these murky waters, PMW-240 recently released the Navy App Locker, a free downloadable app that aims to consolidate all officially released Navy apps. "We wanted to provide the sailor with a single, trusted source, one place to go to see all the Navy-developed apps," Driegert said.
However, due to the fragmented nature of apps development across the Navy, it may be some time before the program hits that mark.
By late May, about two months after the locker launched, there were still just 19 applications available on the app, out of an estimated 100 Navy apps presently in circulation. PMW-240 has had to do some heavy lifting to find and validate the many apps that have been developed across diverse offices and commands throughout the service.
The office has contacted various mobility working groups across the Navy, and leaders of the locker project have scoured the commercial app stores in search of Navy tools that have not been previously identified.
The apps locker also offers users a button through which they can submit their own apps for consideration as part of the official Navy portfolio of mobile tools. Several apps are presently under consideration.
Even with these many irons in the fire, locating Navy apps has proven a challenge. "A lot of Navy organizations have developed mobile apps that reside in the commercial stores, but that not many folks know about — and that includes my office," Driegert said. "It takes a multi-pronged approach just to identify the apps that are out there."
The Sea Warrior Program developed the locker in cooperation with mobile solutions technology provider Tracen Technologies. Apps in the locker at present include a final multiple score, or FMS, calculator; a guide to standards of conduct; and training materials from the Navy's Center for Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture, among others.
Users of the app locker will encounter some additional security protocols. Because certain apps need to interact with DoD computer systems, locker users are asked to install root CA-3 and CA-37 security certificates before diving into the available tools.
"We have to be able to install that root certificate on your device to have that appropriate user experience. Without that certificate, you are not able to access that information on the DoD websites," Driegert said.
In fact, security was a primary consideration in the development of the app locker, where the origins of apps may be murky. Apps apparently identified with the Navy "could be developed by foreign companies, and there is no way to know the true source of that information," Driegert said. In addition to making Navy apps more readily accessible, the locker aims to ensure that Navy users are only interacting with apps of known provenance.
This is not the Navy's first attempt to consolidate services in the apps environment. Last fall, for example, the service launched a pilot version of LiveSafe, an emergency response app that brings together mobile tools related to sexual assault response, medical services, victim legal counsel, chaplains and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
"The basic concept was to design a mobile app to help sailors with prevention by providing a one-stop shop for all of their needs," said Capt. Charles Marks, U.S. Fleet Forces Command's sexual assault prevention and response officer.
Looking ahead, planners say they would like sailors to be able to access more detailed information about their professional advancement, but they first need to ensure the needed levels of security and privacy.
"We want to be able to deliver career information: What training do I need to take? Where am I in my promotion cycle?" Driegert said. "For that, we are looking at doing at higher levels of security. Right now this information is protected in Navy back-end systems, and we will make sure it continues to be protected when we take that into the application environment."