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[infowar.de] TheReg: The Pentagon's tactical Internet - a war too early?
The Pentagon's tactical Internet - a war too early?
By John Lettice
Posted: 21/03/2003 at 20:44 GMT
The Pentagon is furiously buying up commercial satellite capacity in order
to meet the bandwidth needs of a new kind of IT-driven war, reports the
Washington Post. But Register sources suggest that the US military has
other, rather larger problems in delivering on the digital battlespace
A recent Department of Defense briefing included an instructive
illustration of the growth in this hunger for bandwidth, and of what it is
that the military intends to do with it. Note that between the first Gulf
war and Kosova the requirement grew from 256Kbps to 1.5Mbps, and that the
target for 2010 and beyond is 25Gbps in order to achieve "network centric
warfare", quite possibly with no soldiers at all needed on the ground. We
are currently somewhere beyond the "Web tools" phase, but you'd probably
be right if you reckoned that, despite the existence of pioneering units
in the military, the Pentagon spinners are a couple of years ahead of
themselves when they push the digitised battlespace for this war.
We covered that here. The first unit to be equipped with this technology,
the 4th Infantry Division, was originally intended for deployment in
Turkey, northern Iraq invasion for the use of, but as you may have heard
there were problems with this. Earlier this week it was still in Texas,
with its equipment on ships in the Eastern Med, so it will quite possibly
miss this one.
The Abrams tank implementation of the digitized battlespace, the M1A2 SEP
(System Enhancement Package) is described here, some of the salient points
being "improved processors, color and high resolution flat panel displays,
increased memory capacity, user friendly Soldier Machine Interface (SMI)
and an open operating system that will allow for future growth." The
objective of the digitized battlespace is to deliver systems whereby data
is gathered by individual units, communicated back to the centre in order
to produce a complete picture of the battlefield, and then this picture is
sent back to the individual units.
Thus, the commanders (who could conceivably be anywhere in the world) have
a clear picture of what's going on, and the troops on the ground also know
what's around them, which is friend and which is foe. But how do you
handle the comms?
Buying up bandwidth may help the Pentagon deal with some of the big
picture, but the current scramble is over bandwidth for less ambitious but
more profligate purposes. If you're going to sit on the other side of the
world controlling, say, an RQ-1 Predator UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle)
that's sending you video, you must expect to be using a hell of a lot of
bandwidth. The Pentagon plans many more UAVs, and has lots already
deployed in Iraq - they chew up bandwidth, they do not produce a joined up
picture. So go figure. Also, note that UAVs were the stars of the 4th's
EXFOR tests a few years back - the 'Internet in a tank' didn't figure
highly at that point. They're arguably two different concepts, and the one
we're not currently excited about is the one that won the wargame.
Aspects of the digitized battlespace clearly need a lot less bandwidth,
but this obviously mounts up when you equip a whole army with the
technology, and the weak link here is currently SINCGARS. Single Channel
Ground Airborne Radio System is the army's standard radio system, and
within the digitized battlespace is intended to route data messages via
the "Tactical Internet" which itself may be composed of multiple SINCGARS
radio nets. Other technologies, eg WIN-T and JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio
System) will eventually start to build a functional Tactical Internet
(JTRS will begin deployment in 2005-6), but at the moment SINCGARS is
In operation, this is a pretty narrow pipe. Even taking a fairly
conservative view of the comms requirements of the digitized battlespace
at client level, you find you need something in the region of a 1200 baud
modem connection. The actual data requirements are lower, but with the
addition of COMSEC and network management (obviously necessary), that's
what you come to. SINCGARS, however, is essentially old technology, a
voice system that can't seriously do the tactical Internet. For data it's
constrained to a single 25Khz voice channel, and other limitations force
it into approximately 3.5KHz available voice bandwidth.
So it's currently possible for units to know where they are via GPS, and
to report their position to commanders via their existing comms systems.
They can also do combat identification, reducing friendly fire casualties,
and the command centres now can at least get all of the data they need to
build a pretty accurate picture of where all of the friendly units are;
the big picture is possible because it has the available bandwidth, the
last mile is a lot trickier. And what it is that the ground units are
getting on those colour, high resolution flat panel displays today rather
difficult to conceive. Are we, perhaps, a war too early? Maybe best stay
in Texas this time around. ?
In our first take on the digitised battlespace, we recklessly claimed that
the equipment to do this was already being deployed, and that therefore
the gosh-wow stories were not entirely spin. We begin to suspect that this
was not the case.
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