Wanna Bomb a Taliban? There’s an App for That!

Posted by at 7:16 pm on January 26, 2011
Category: ITAR

Tactical Nav appYou may think that the only really military application for your iPhone involves using a slingshot to launch some irritated birds at shelters harboring egg-stealing pigs, but you’d be wrong. Army Captain Jonathan Springer used $26,000 of his own funds to develop Tactical Nav, an iPhone app designed to assist soldiers on the field of battle to determine and relay accurate coordinates to other soldiers, whether for the purpose of accurately targeting a nest of Taliban fighters or in order to send medical aid to wounded U.S. forces.

Explaining Tactical Nav’s functions, Springer said it allows soldiers to map, plot and photograph navigational points on a battleground and coordinate efforts with supporting units. Another feature includes a night mode, which turns the screen to red for easier visibility.

Springer tested each of these features for accuracy, using a combination of military vehicles, remote observation posts and harsh combat conditions.

Pleased with the outcome of his efforts, Springer said, “We took it from paper to what it is now … we’re very blessed and fortunate that is seems a good asset.”

Springer expects the app to be in the iTunes store for sale in February.

So here’s the question. Will Apple get a visit from the folks at DDTC if someone who is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or who is not in the United States downloads this app? After all, it was specifically designed for battlefield use and was tested with battlefield equipment.

I haven’t fully thought through this issue, but my initial view is that the software may not be an ITAR-controlled item. Obviously, being designed or modified military use is not alone sufficient for an item to be on the United States Munitions List. The item must still be in a category set forth in the USML. Section 120.10 of the ITAR defines “technical data” to include software but only if “directly related to defense articles.” The iPhone itself isn’t a defense article. The only other time I see software called out specifically in the USML is category XIII for military cryptography, also not relevant to this app.

I haven’t fully analyzed this, so I could be wrong. Share your thoughts in the comments section.


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Copyright © 2011 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)


Interesting question. My initial thought is to disagree with you. How would the application be different than targeting software used in other military applications? If a military targeting application is downloaded onto a thumb drive it’s still designed for a military application. It’s what it does not how it’s delivered. I can be persuaded otherwise too. As for the category I trust the DDTC will find a place to classify it, even it’s under miscellaneous.

Now here’s my real question. What’s the story behind the slingshot, egg stealing pig? Maybe I’m missing a reference.

Comment by LDM on January 26th, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

If the app is loaded on an IPhone, then Cat XIb looks appropriate as the Iphone was “configured” for intelligence, security, or military purposes for use in search, reconnaissance, collection, monitoring, direction-finding, display, analysis and production of information from the electromagnetic spectrum…

Since software is not specifically mentioned, not sure if the object code is covered. The source code would contain technical data for sure.

Why this app was done is a mystery as the Army issues “pluggers” (GPS) devices and has blue force trackers (GPS position reporting) on most vehicles. Hope there is continuous cell tower coverage in Afganistan.

Comment by Malcolm Campbell on January 26th, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

My thought is the app is not ITAR-controlled. The app doesn’t seem to do anything different than other civil/commercial mapping applications. The app allows any person to map, plot, and photograph waypoints and send those coordinates to others. This is not unique to military. This might as well be a hiking or outdoors app for use in any number of civil applications. Nothing particularly new here. It just uses the standard capabilities of the iphone.

Comment by jd on January 27th, 2011 @ 1:04 am

I have not fully considered the application (no pun intended) of export controls; however, there is a good possibility the “invention” is the property of the US Government even though he spent his own money to create it. No different from when an employee invents something at work or on his own time as a result of knowledge gained from working for his employer. Looks to me like reimbursement of $26K and a medal.

Comment by C. Wilkinson on January 27th, 2011 @ 8:47 am

Apple requires all Apps to go through the CCATS processes before it is made avalible in the iTunes store….I would be interested in the outcome of the CCATS request…


Comment by CP on January 27th, 2011 @ 10:46 am

Fun with ITAR! I disagree that it has to be listed on the USML to be a defense article. 120.6 states that “the policy described in 120.3 is applicable to designations of additional items.” I read this to mean, additional to those listed in 121.1. Because Springer specifically designed it for a military application, arguably 120.3(a) applies.

That said, I would vote in the non-ITAR camp. Mirroring JD’s comments — it likely has predominent civil applications and has a performance equivalent (form, fit, and function) to articles currently used in civil applications. 120.3(a)(i)-(ii).

Comment by IHM on January 27th, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

[Comment removed at the request of its author]

Comment by DGHarrison on January 27th, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

I once had a piece of software very much like this which, via CJ, was held under the licensing jurisdiction of DOS for years. The CJ classified USML Category XI(d). It was eventually released to the jurisdiction of DOC, but under condition that any new version be submitted for review via new CJ application.

It all tends to boil down to first sale/use and, thereafter over time, predominant nature of sales overall. The marketing language and purported acceptance testing appears to put this app on the DOS side of the fence out the gate.

CP’s comment is interesting. Given the market being targeted, can this app properly be the subject of a CCR? Perhaps Apple should rethink its requirements and have all new apps submitted for CJ determinations instead.

Comment by mj on January 27th, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

To all,
In response to DGHarrison’s comment about me only being interested in “dollar signs than in vital signs” … well, that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Let me ask you this: have you ever been to combat sir? Have you ever seen your compatriots taken away via a UH-60 MEDEVAC only never to return? Maybe you have, or maybe you haven’t.

Bottom line, I only care about helping the young men and women serving in uniform today. I know to some that may sound like a load of BS, but I could care less about your opinions … it’s the truth.

Take care and God Bless.

CPT Springer

Comment by CPT Springer on January 28th, 2011 @ 3:30 am

Based on your description of the software I would agree with you that it is not subject to the jurisdiction of the ITAR. Although the Captain designed the software because there was a need in the military to accurately determine geographical coordinates for targeting purposes, based on your description the application itself simply helps a user to accurately determine those coordinates. Your description did not say that the application performs the targeting or that the output is in any way unique to a targeting system or targeting operation. Accurately determining georgraphic coordinates is not a unique military application, targeting weapons is. Other examples of accurately determining geographic coordinates are found in many every-day commercial applications such as aviation (yes, the airplane you fly on does have to know where it is located) down to the hand held GPS in almost every car on the road. So, if the software performs as you have described, it simply helps to determine accurate coordinates then I would agree that it is not subject to the ITAR. If the software does something beyond this relatively simple task of accurately determining geographic coordinates that is in some way unique to targeting ITAR controlled weapons, that would probably change the jurisdiction.

Comment by Greg Hill on January 28th, 2011 @ 7:54 am

From what is available about the App on what it does, it seems to be more than a video game, put together by an active duty member of the military. Tend to agree with comments made by C. Wilkinson but would need more information though to make a fulsome conclusion. That said, if DDTC wants to reach out and include it on the USML, it can, and it has sufficient statutory authority to do so under several sections of the AECA, not too mention the ever so “clear and understandable” ITAR.

Comment by Jason Poblete on January 29th, 2011 @ 6:28 am

If it works and doesn’t reverse-target the user then it is another tool to help our troops and “Bravo Zulu to the good Captain” says I. If your Army issued “plugger” GPS fails, gets lost, damaged…etc. our soldiers have a back up. Excellent! In the Navy we cherished having redundant systems, especially ones with stand-alone power/capabilities etc. so they were a totally separate but servicable tool. “Innovate away” and God Bless our entrepreneurs that serve our defense!!!

Comment by GW on January 31st, 2011 @ 9:12 am

Export classification nuances aside, here’s another bravo zulu for the good captain. Thank you for your service and innovation, and good luck!

Comment by John Pisa-Relli on February 2nd, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

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Comment by Jerry C on February 9th, 2011 @ 6:19 am