iPads for the US Air Force? 18,000 may soon be purchased

iPad 2When it comes to purchasing equipment, most military machines around the world will spend their time leafing through catalogs packed with bullets and bombs. The US Air Force (USAF), however, is also taking a close look at something else—Apple’s iPad.

According to a Bloomberg report on Friday, the Air Mobility Command (AMC) component of the USAF is considering purchasing as many as 18,000 of the tablets. The AMC is responsible for transporting troops, supplies, and equipment around the world. The tablets would be used to take the place of paper manuals used by pilots and flight crews.

The information came from a notice on a government procurement website and mentioned the iPad by name. However, the notice also stated that the USAF would consider similar devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab or Research In Motion’s PlayBook.

The notice went up on the government’s Federal Business Opportunities website earlier this month though has only recently been picked up by news services. The notice states that the government is looking to purchase “a minimum of 63 and a maximum of 18,000” tablets. It’s not clear why the range is so broad though it suggests they still have a fair bit of research to carry out before arriving at a final figure.

The Nextgov website said the purchase “is potentially the largest single federal order for the tablet computer,” though adds that up to now sales to the government have been low “due to security concerns.”

Speaking to Bloomberg, AMC spokesperson Captain Kathleen Ferrero said the the plan was to lighten the load carried by the aircraft, with paper charts and manuals currently used on planes weighing as much as 40 pounds.

She also pointed out that many major carriers were already in the process of switching to tablets, referring to the likes of American Airlines and United Airlines.

Up to now, airlines that have made the switch to so-called electronic flight bags are using Apple’s iPad as opposed to any other tablets on the market.

PlayBook maker Research In Motion would dearly love to secure such a contract with the government, though the recent trend appears to show many companies and government agencies moving away from RIM devices and switching to Apple products and those powered by Google’s Android mobile OS. This week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it would be giving out iPhones and iPads to some of its employees, replacing currently used BlackBerry devices.