Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Too Many Gizmos

In "The Digital Fog of War," military blogger for the New York Times Captain Tim Hsia

Instead of something akin to a smartphone, soldiers lug around several disparate pieces of equipment: GPS devices, iris and fingerprint scanners, charts for calculating collateral damage estimates related to artillery or airstrikes, hand-held radios, cameras, notepad and pen.

Hsia takes what could be called a "platform studies" approach to the problem of computational media in the military and even makes what an uncomplimentary analogy to the Atari system that is the star of Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort's book Racing the Beam: the Atari Video Computer System: "To members of the Xbox generation, however, military hardware and software seem to date from the Atari era: Too often it is bulky, confusing and impractical."

In terms of software, the main culprits for the Army’s Luddite setup here is a weak architecture and lack of interoperability between systems.

Without going into operational and technical specifics, there are multiple systems the military uses for tracking vehicles and units, but many of these systems do not speak to one another. Even within systems one unit often cannot speak or synchronize with another because a software upgrade or patch makes their equipment incompatible. This results in a confusing battlespace where units sometimes lack complete situational awareness of other units operating around them.

There are also too many platforms being tailored to specific uses, inadvertently adding to the fog of war. Command and control, intelligence, logistics, and medical systems all have a plethora of platforms with their own hardware and software requirements. These operating systems are an extreme hindrance for forward-deployed personnel operating in austere environments as they entail a greater support tail, and, more importantly, they all need power.

In contrast, Iraqi forces are content with their one-size-fits-all bomb-detecting device from Cumberland Industries, even though the Amazing Randi has directly challenged the company to prove the following advertising claims:

Simultaneous Detection of Multiple Types of Explosives or Drugs. The ADE651® incorporates electrostatic ion attraction [ESA] technology to target the specific substances. It can accommodate multiple substance detection cards to detect a broad range of explosive or drug [narcotic] substances. It can more specifically identify a substance by removing detection cards from the ADE651® after detection is received until the attraction is lost.

Ignores All Known Concealment Methods. By programming the detection cards to specifically target a particular substance, (through the proprietary process of electro-static matching of the ionic charge and structure of the substance), the ADE651® will “by-pass” all known attempts to conceal the target substance. It has been shown to penetrate Lead, other metals, concrete, and other matter (including hiding in the body) used in attempts to block the attraction.

No Consumables nor Maintenance Contracts Required. Unlike Trace Detectors that require the supply of sample traps, the ADE651® does not utilize any consumables (exceptions include: cotton-gloves and cleanser) thereby reducing the operational costs of the equipment. The equipment is Operator maintained and requires no ongoing maintenance service contracts. It comes with a hardware three year warranty. Since the equipment is powered electro statically, there are no batteries or conventional power supplies to change or maintain.

High Explosives or Detonable Explosives Trinitrotoluene (TNT), DNT, Nitro Esters (PETN, nitroglycerine, ethylene glycol dinitrate), Ammonium nitrate, Dynamite, RDX/Hexogen/Octogan, Black Powder, ammunition & Propellants, Tetryl, Narcotics, Cocaine/Heroin/Morphine, THC/Marijuana/Cannabis, LSD/Ketamine/Midazolam, Amphetamine / D-methamphetamine, Ecstasy, Opium/Opiates, Chloro-Methyl & Benzodiazepine drugs, Ivory, Human Recognition (Detection).

For more about this device, read "Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. Sees as Useless."

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