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[infowar.de] LAT 2.02.03 Military Beefs Up Its Digital Arsenal
Los Angeles Times
February 2, 2003
Military Beefs Up Its Digital Arsenal
Higher-tech innovations than those used in the '91 Persian Gulf War are
aimed at Iraq now.
By Peter Pae, Times Staff Writer
Even with a roomful of other high-tech wizardry, the show-stopper at a
recent defense electronics conference in San Diego was a
three-dimensional aerial image of
Baghdad shown on a big-screen TV.
As a defense contractor gently moved the joystick, a mock aircraft
nose-dived a few hundred feet above the city and the view from the
cockpit changed significantly.
The drab outlines of Baghdad quickly gave way to vivid satellite images
of rooftops and tree-lined streets before the plane swooped over a car
parked in front of
Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard headquarters.
This computer simulator is a commercial version based on defense work
that has been declassified. But industry and military sources say U.S.
forces are relying on
digital information technology at an unprecedented level for a war
U.S. fighter pilots in the Middle East and Europe are now rehearsing for
airstrikes against Iraq by using even more sophisticated computer
simulators that project
images of Baghdad and other potential targets, sources said. They offer
three times more detail than commercial systems, with some shots taken
by satellites only a
few hours earlier, and are so precise that even slender electrical power
lines are visible.
"Digital technology has permeated every facet of the military," said
Loren Thompson, defense analyst for the Lexington Institute and a
lecturer at Georgetown
University. "Every step in mounting a mission, executing it and planning
the next one is being digitalized."
Army commanders in Kuwait are also using a new computer system that
allows them to instantly see on a laptop screen the precise location of
U.S. tanks, artillery
and other vehicles as well as information about their fuel level and
supply of ammunition. Their orders are issued not from crackling radios,
but from e-mails popping
up on the computer screen. They also come from M-1 Abrams tanks fitted
with hardened laptops, and remotely controlled spy planes with real-time
The move to digitize U.S. forces started in earnest after the 1991
Persian Gulf War as computer processing power and the advent of
systems raised the possibility of getting accurate information and then
processing it instantly.
Among other things, the Pentagon hopes that digital communications will
reduce the number of soldiers who mistakenly shoot their own. During the
Gulf War, of the
148 U.S. soldiers killed, 35 died from "friendly fire."
The ultimate goal of using supercomputers and Internet-like networks is
to instantly link spy planes, satellites, fighters, bombers, tanks and
ships so they can quickly
identify targets and coordinate an attack -- within minutes, compared to
hours or days in past conflicts. A decade ago pilots prepared for
missions over Iraq using
still photographs and maps while commanders used wall-size boards to
chart troop movements based on radio communications that were prone to
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who
attended the San Diego conference, described how in December the 82nd
commander in Afghanistan was able to quickly respond to a report of U.S.
soldiers coming under fire by merely looking at his computer. "The folks
get the information in a matter of minutes, a very accurate picture,"
Myers said, noting how just a year earlier, the ground commander relied
on grease pens and
plastic-wrapped maps to figure out where everyone was.
"It's in this area of shared knowledge that I think technology offers
the promise of really transforming the military," Myers added. "History
is pretty clear: The ones
that can do that the fastest usually win."
It's not clear how much the Pentagon has spent on information technology
programs, but it has earmarked $30 billion over the next six years to
continue beefing up
the military's communication and command and control systems. Another
$50 billion is slated for new surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
Having superior knowledge has been a dream of military planners for
centuries. Napoleon relied on reports from scouts in balloons for
intelligence and room-size
models of cities, down to a horse cart on a particular cobblestone
street, to plan a military operation. During battles, Napoleon received
battlefield reports via
pigeons carrying small pieces with handwritten notes.
Against Iraq, U.S. forces are likely to use at least half a dozen
different unmanned aircraft that have been developed over the last
decade, including the Predator and
Global Hawk as well the shorter endurance craft, Dragon Eye and Shadow,
to give them aerial intelligence unlike ever before. High-altitude
Global Hawks will
provide wide-ranging, satellite-like images, while hand-launched Dragon
Eyes will be able to provide live video images of a road or a clearing
beyond a ridge or a
"There has been a dramatic uptick with the advent of unmanned air
vehicles and the ability to transmit videos," said Steven J. Zaloga, a
military technology analyst for
the Fairfax, Va.-based aerospace research firm Teal Group. "Now you
don't need to build a model of Baghdad. You can use computers."
At the San Diego conference, Joseph M. Nemethy, the product manager for
defense contractor Harris Corp., used the joystick to fly over the
Tigris River and head
out of the city.
The system used a computer program developed by Harris, and images taken
by commercial satellites using 3-meter-resolution cameras. By
satellites can generate images with three times more detail. The Harris
software is incorporated into supercomputers developed by Mountain View,
Silicon Graphics Inc., which turns the data into 3-D images.
Nemethy declined to talk about the military version of the system, but
he said the technology is a dramatic improvement over the simulators
that use animation to train
commercial pilots. "The difference is the accuracy," Nemethy said. "We
actually use the imagery from satellites. We don't fake the imagery."
In Kuwait, U.S. tanks preparing for a possible invasion of Iraq have
been fitted with computers that allow not only the commander miles away
to see where his
troops are and what they are doing but also give the tank driver the
location and movement of other U.S. vehicles.
The screen displays a topographical map, either in 2-D or 3-D, with
moving squares and triangles identifying the vehicles. Touching a
particular square or triangle
prompts the screen to display details of the vehicle, including the
names of its occupants. If a tank crew spots the enemy, they alert
others by touching another icon
and typing in the enemy's coordinates.
Recently, 12,500 soldiers from the Army's 4th Infantry Division
(Mechanized), based at Ft. Hood, Texas, were deployed to the Middle
East. The unit is considered
the army's most modern combat division and has been testing the new
system for more than three years in their M-1 tanks. The system,
developed by Northrop
Grumman Corp., was deployed late last year. And each computer unit,
which resembles a laptop screen, is linked by satellites as well as
secure radio and a global
positioning system navigation device.
Defense analysts believe the latest information technology systems will
come in handy if the conflict ends up in Baghdad, where house-to-house
fighting could ensue.
The Pentagon is betting that better communications and highly
sophisticated information technology will provide an edge.
"The place where all this comes together is in the cockpit of a single
fighter pilot or the tank driver penetrating hostile territory,"
Thompson, the defense analyst, said.
Soldiers will "have access to intelligence from satellites, ground
sensors, a comprehensive awareness of where all the [friendly forces]
and adversaries are, and he
never loses contact with people below or above. It's as though he has
never left the command center."
Eventually, the Pentagon envisions having all four services -- the Navy,
Army, Air Force and Marines -- linked seamlessly, despite their
disparate systems. All the
major defense contractors, including Northrop Grumman, Boeing Co.,
Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Corp., have been vying for contracts
systems that would give the military so-called integrated battle space.
Analysts believe the Pentagon could spend up to $100 billion in the next
decade to digitize its forces. Northrop, for instance, last fall created
a Cyber Warfare
Integration Center in El Segundo where a room resembling NASA's mission
control is filled with wall-to-wall screens and dozens of tables with
However, there isn't enough bandwidth to handle all the information the
Pentagon wants to have, including transmitting live video images.
Some military planners are worried that commanders might micromanage
squad leaders in the field. "Somebody sitting behind a desk at the
Pentagon will be able to
see in real time this stuff being fed to them by the soldier in the
field and he may want to start telling the soldier what to do," Zaloga
said. "How they handle this is
going to be one of the more interesting elements of the campaign."
HSFK Hessische Stiftung für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
PRIF Peace Research Institute Frankfurt
Leimenrode 29 60322 Frankfurt a/M Germany
Tel +49 (0)69 9591 0422 Fax +49 (0)69 5584 81
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