Col. Emmett Schaill is the former leader of the Army Evaluation Task Force, and he makes a very personal case for boosting situational awareness. In 2005, while stationed in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, he went to a castle that was being used as a police station. During his meeting with the police chief, a car bomb exploded outside the southeast wall. Schaill rushed to investigate. Only once bullets started whizzing past did he realize that insurgents were attacking. He peered from a parapet to get a good shot but didn't see the insurgent taking aim nearby. The bullet ripped through his forearm and bicep. "If I had a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] to see what was going on out there, I personally would not have been shot," he says.
The FCS robot he covets is the Class 1, Block 0 UAV. Later the morning of the infantry exercise, it scoped Adobe Village from the sky. With a soldier controlling its movement by way of a Panasonic Toughbook, the craft captured high-resolution video of the assembled soldiers, a pair of porta-potties and me. It looked like a beer keg and sounded like a leaf blower. But the Task Force soldiers are excited about its potential. Unlike the Raven UAV, the small unmanned plane currently used by the Army for low-altitude recon, the Class 1, Block 0 is a helicopter and can hover in place from 10 to 200 feet off the ground -- in a narrow alley between buildings, outside a window looking in.
Drones have become common battlefield tools in the past decade but are typically controlled at the company or battalion level, which respectively have about 135 and 650 soldiers apiece. FCS wants tools like the UAV at the platoon (approximately 40 soldiers) and even squad (10 members) level. The vision is also to expand the range of applications. The Massachusetts-based company iRobot manufactures a PackBot currently deployed overseas, which the military uses primarily to scout for improvised explosive devices, while the SUGV, also made by iRobot, may one day lead infantry assaults like the one I witnessed. A single soldier can comfortably tote a SUGV, and the controller, copied almost directly from that of an Xbox game console, was designed to be intuitively easy for a young recruit to use.
One of the soldiers handed me the controller; I donned the head-up display and started driving. The robot crashed into a wall. After practicing for a few minutes, I was able to steer into one of the buildings and scan for insurgents. There was something exciting -- and faintly disturbing -- about the notion that I could help battle insurgents with technology that felt only slightly elevated from the R/C cars of my childhood. But I wasn't totally sold. Removing the display, I asked what would prevent an enemy from shooting the SUGV as soon as he spotted it. "Nothing," replied one of the soldiers nearby, Lt.-Col. Ed House. "But if he does, we know he's there, so the SUGV has accomplished its mission. Better to shoot a robot than a soldier."
A soldier drove up in a Humvee and parked in the middle of Adobe Village. Inside the truck was a suite of computer and communications gear that collects information from the SUGV, the drones and the rest of the battlefield nodes, displays it on a computer screen, and feeds it into the broader network. The point, after all, is not just for someone like Schaill to know that there are barbarians at the castle gate, but to share that information with everyone. FCS can't handle too much streaming video -- the system won't have enough bandwidth -- but still images can be captured and distributed, which soldiers say is a major step forward. The operator of a hovering drone who takes a picture of an insurgent entering a hideout can share it so that soldiers conducting the subsequent raid know exactly who they're looking for. A sensor that detects a biological threat can instantly alert everyone on the network.
A catchphrase of Army modernization is "every soldier a sensor." If soldiers observe a roadside bomb, they can post the coordinates to the network. Their locations, movements, text messages sent, and shots fired can be automatically recorded. In aggregate, the information streaming onto the network from hundreds of soldiers will give commanders an exceptionally accurate and up-to-the-second portrait of battlefield conditions. Schaill describes the creation of a "cognitive network across a 4,000-man brigade." So it's not that FCS will somehow turn the grunts of the past into autonomous killing machines -- rather, they will become the grunts of the future, fighters with the pluck of American GIs and the hive mind of the Borg.
Lots of gee whiz tech here, but the comm system is really an issue. Expecting to have nearly universal availability of secure, reliable, and high tech comm seems an unrealistic expectation.
If the enemy finds a way to jam the net, system effectiveness plummets
Individual radios will be subject to breakdown, batteries, and any comm obstacles (metal walls, etc)
The enemy could capture one or more radios and get an immediate intelligence boost. Worst case scenario, they might figure the system out.
The pentagon has historically been in love with tech as a solution to all of our problems. I'm all for saving as many soldiers lives as possible. But, this system looks as if it might be compromised too easily -- with disastrous reults.
All our military personal are giving up their home lives, and/or their LIVES in war. You'd think the RICH would take interest in this and get on board in some way. Like maybe Bill Gates, whose life revolves around tech.
Most of this just seems too horizontal for my taste. American war should be verticle. We have unquestioned air superiority, so our assits should be airborn. Why put a cannon on the ground to be a target, when you can just arm your UAV?
When the enemy has nothing to shoot, what will he shoot?
American war should look like this:
1) Unmanned high altitude recon of anti-air and communications tech. (if necessary)
2) Coordinated long-range fire on anti-air and communications tech. (if necessary)
3) Cargo UAV deposites armed UAVs to warzone.
4) Using a high altitude communication UAV, guys in Nowheretown Nebraska, command the weapon systems on these UAV drones to eliminate targets (using onboard weapons or relaying coordinates for long range fire)
5) UAVs settle in stategic spots (sniping, survealance, etc) when flight time diminishes to continue to police the contained area.
24 control of any area with the only risk being money and carpel tunnel syndrom for our soldier-techies. End a riot or fight a war with no assets on the ground. That alone takes away any incintive for retaliation and increases American reach by removing barriers to engagement.
"The safty and speed of an ICBM, the descretion of a soldier." (I should TM this and have the military pay me a few million).
How long did it take to develop the field artillery's communication system for faster round on target? I can see this moving along with the same enthusiasm.
Battlefield advantage forever has started from the high ground downward. Today's high ground is outer space. Don't control that and you soon don't control anything.
The UAV Class 1 as Hover looks impressive but it seems to be easy recognized/identidied by the enemy per the picture with Hover parked on the wall outside the building. This is similar to the platform moving on the battlefield which builds with very height multibands antennas to support COTM, what happens if the enemy shoot down or disrupt the device or platform as mentioned? They are easy target recognized/identified by the enemy.
Re: oakspar77777 commentary, to wit:
I dunno, sounds a lil' too George Orwell to me.
Since when did modern day warfare become a videogame
my kid could play from his bedroom.
Anyone else disturbed by this trend? Or am I the
only one who remembers Mathew Broderick in "War Games"?
By the way, what's new on the cyber terror front?
Anyone paying attention?
I'm just sayin'.
I thought it was pretty cool that they took WALL-E from the movie and put him out in real life in the Army.
think the enemy could only listen in only if we were doing a mission anywhere near them
the ds has wiifi and you can only be 30ft away fro;m the host but if their is another berson between you and the host then u can be 30ft away from them and be well out of the host range and still be able to talk on pictochat
so maybe the army should widen the length of hte wyfiee conection ar somthing maybe encrypt it