The Pentagon is planning to open its network for the first time to Apple iPhones and devices running Google’s Android operating system, a threat to BlackBerry maker Research in Motion.

The Defense Department plans to hire a contractor to build a system that will manage and secure at least 162,500 Android devices and Apple products such as the iPad, according to a document posted online Oct. 22. The system may be expanded to handle 8 million devices, the department said.

The project is “a significant step towards delivering a secure mobile communications capability’’ to the entire agency, according to the document.

The plan opens the door for the military to provide alternatives to BlackBerrys, which already are used on the Pentagon’s network. RIM has clung to government business as an area of strength as consumers and some businesses switch to rival devices with bigger touch screens and faster browsers.

For the year ended March 3, RIM’s sales in the United States, its biggest market fell 47 percent compared with the previous year.

The Pentagon wants to allow employees to access its network with a broader range of mobile devices so it can “take advantage of the increasing wireless capabilities that exist and that are developing in the marketplace,” according to the contracting document.

While the Defense Department is not insisting that contractors propose systems that can manage RIM devices, it “desires” a system that can also handle BlackBerrys, the document stated.

Paul Lucier, vice president of government solutions for Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM, said in an e-mailed statement that the military left BlackBerry compatibility off its requirement list because it already has a RIM system to manage the devices.

The Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Agency plans to award the mobile device management contract to a single company by April. The contract will probably be for one year with options to extend it an additional two years. Bids are due Nov. 27. The Pentagon did not give the potential value of the contract.

Natalie Harrison, a spokeswoman for Cupertino, Calif.-
based Apple, declined to comment. An e-mail and a phone call to Mountain View, Calif.-based Google were not immediately returned.

In an acknowledgment of inroads made by rivals, RIM in April released BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, software that lets organizations manage iPhones and Android devices alongside BlackBerrys on their networks.

“We are excited for the opportunity to include BlackBerry Mobile Fusion” in the military’s portfolio, Lucier said in his statement.

Even with its total sales decline, RIM’s market share among U.S. government agencies was probably increasing, the company’s senior vice president of BlackBerry security, Scott Totzke, said in an April interview in Washington.

“Compared to the enterprise over the last year and a half or so, the federal business on whole is up,’’ he said at the time. “The employee base is shrinking, so if we’re looking at a market with fewer employees and our install base is stable to slightly up, that would seem to indicate that we have an increasing market share.”

—Bloomberg Government