WASHINGTON, Oct 31 (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Wednesday said it would continue to support ``large numbers'' of BlackBerry phones made by Research in Motion Ltd even as it moves forward with plans that would allow the U.S. military to begin using Apple Inc's iPhone and other devices.
The U.S. Defense Department last week invited companies to submit bids for software that can monitor, manage and enforce security requirements for devices made by Apple and Google Inc , with an eye to awarding a contract in April.
The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) quietly posted its request for proposals on a federal website on Oct. 22, the same day that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency said it would end its contract with RIM in favor of Apple's iPhone.
Losing some of its Pentagon business to other providers could deal another blow to RIM, which once commanded the lead in the smartphone market but has rapidly lost ground to Apple and Samsung's line of products as customers abandon its aging BlackBerry devices.
For many years, the Pentagon relied solely on BlackBerry phones because RIM met its tough security requirements, but other companies have been improving security on their devices, and a growing number of military commanders are clamoring for rival devices with bigger touch screens and faster browsers.
A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. military was working toward allowing vendors to supply other smartphones, while maintaining strict security requirements.
He said the department aimed to use commercial mobile technologies as it stepped up the use of ``new and innovative applications'' to support the military's evolving requirements.
But the Pentagon also stressed it was not moving away from its use of BlackBerry phones.
``DISA is managing an enterprise email capability that continues to support large numbers of RIM devices while moving forward with the department's planned mobile management capability that will support a variety of mobility devices,'' the spokesman said.
The DISA request for proposals said the software would manage at least 162,500 devices to start, but that number could grow to 262,500 by the end of the contract, which will have a one-year base and four six-month options.
Ultimately, the Pentagon wants the software to support a total of 8 million devices, according to the document.
RIM spokesman Paul Lucier said his company's BlackBerry Mobile Fusion product could also be used to manage Android and Apple devices, and RIM was ``excited for the opportunity to include BlackBerry Mobile Fusion in the DOD's portfolio.''
Lucier said the product could enable the Pentagon to ``support a growing number of mobile devices across multiple platforms.''
Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM is also planning to introduce new smartphones that will run on the BlackBerry 10 operating system, offering a faster and smoother user interface and a better platform for various smartphone applications.