Defense spokesman says DoD not dumping BlackBerry

Says report of iOS purchases didn't come from official source

A U.S. Department of Defense spokesman on Thursday said a report suggesting the defense agency is dumping BlackBerry devices was inaccurate, and that BlackBerry is still part of ongoing DoD mobile device deployment plans.

The spokesman contradicted a report in Electronista that cited "well-placed sources" as saying the Defense Department created a pending purchase order for 650,000 Apple iOS devices, including iPhones and tablets. That purchase would replace existing BlackBerry devices that are incompatible with BlackBerry 10, Electronista said.

The Z10 smartphone running BB10 goes on sale tomorrow in the U.S. on AT&T for $199.99 and a two-year contract. Other carriers will also sell the qwerty-keyboard Q10 in coming weeks.

In a telephone interview, the DoD spokesman said he didn't know where Electronista got its information, but added, "it is not from an official DoD source." He also said the BlackBerry's future at the Defense Department is still very much alive.

"We are not dumping BlackBerry as Electronista and others have indicated," said the spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Damien Pickart. "We're moving to multiple devices, and that includes BlackBerry."

Pickart said the Defense Department has 470,000 BlackBerry devices in use, as well as 41,000 Apple iOS devices and 8,700 Android devices.

On Feb. 15, the Defense Department's CIO Teresa Takai release a phased "Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan" that updates a June 2012 mobile strategy that had called for using commercial off-the-shelf products. Takai said in a February memo and in attachments released by the DoD at the time that the implementation plan was contingent on available funds with a specific goal of supporting "100,000 multivendor devices by February 2014."

The DoD's approach also permits the use of commercial smartphones and tablets over commercial carrier networks for classified communications for the first time through a new NSA security architecture, Takai said. The DoD will conduct a series of operational pilots of the process throughout its branches and divisions, she added.

BlackBerry is marketing its BlackBerry 10 devices, both the Z10 and Q10, to consumers and businesses, as well as governments globally. On Wednesday, a British government security group said BB10 is "likely to represent a viable solution" and disputed a report in The Guardian that said "BlackBerry software had been ruled not safe enough for essential government work."

The DoD spokesman also released the following statement via email confirming his earlier comments:

"The department is aware of recent reporting that asserts it is 'dropping' BlackBerry. This reporting is in error. The department recently released its mobility strategy and supporting implementation plan, which clarifies we are moving towards a mobile management capability that supports a variety of devices, to include BlackBerry. As clarified in the recent release of our Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan, we are working towards establishing a multi-vendor environment in support of the DoD mobility strategy.

"The Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan updates the June 2012 Mobile Strategy with specific objectives and puts the strategy into action. A key objective of the plan is to establish a department-wide mobile enterprise solution that permits the use of the latest commercial technology such as smartphones and tablets, and the development of an enterprise mobile device management capability and application store to support approximately 100,000 multivendor devices by February 2014. DoD currently has more than 600,000 Commercial Mobile Devices in operational and pilot use, including 470,000 Blackberries, 41,000 Apple Operating Systems and 8,700 Android Systems."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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