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Technology Significantly Increases Situation Awareness for Small Unit Forces


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I found this thought provoking:

http://www.defencetalk.com/news/publish/army/Technology_Significantly_Increases_Situation_Awareness_for_Small_Unit_Forces110016787.php

My concern is: what happens when one of these laptops or handhelds gets captured? Even if there are safeguards like encryption, passwords, biometrics - all can be defeated given the right circumstances.

Is it wise to put this much battlefield intelligence out in where it can be captured and used against friendly forces?

Admittedly, intel is best used by those closest to the fighting (most of the time, anyway) so I can understand the push to develop and field these devices. My concern is that the means to secure them (or to neutralize/destroy the device or data within it) must be a major element in their design.

Comments or other input?

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Not much more dangerous than a map with battle plans marked out falling to enemy hands. Except that if lost to enemy, the map doesn't beacon its GPS data for your mortars...

And a hand held device is only useful as long as it is connected to the wireless network with the others, so if one seems to be lost the admins can just log out the user.

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The Singaporean Army, so I've heard, is attempting to invert the usual bandwidth pyramid.

Traditionally, the higher you go the more information you have access to, and the richer it is (voice, text, imagery, video, etc). At the lowest levels, you often don't get a lot more than "Go there!" you reason, no intel, just go secure that house.

What the Singaporeans are trying to do is give section commanders access to the kinds of information that usually halts at Bn or Bde level. So they're getting high def, but very small and robust screens, along with high bandwidth wireless datalinks, and the information gets ... pushed(?) out to them (I think - I don't believe they have sorted out "pull" of info. Yet.)

Whether it works - or can be made workable - remains to be seen, but it's a very interesting experiment, and not the kind of cutting edge stuff you'd typically associate with the SA.

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If you give soldiers high bandwidth connections, they will just use it to download a ton of porn.

There's that. But also I wonder about the ability of your average human being to sort out that kind of information overload in the heat of battle. Seems like that's where "Keep it simple, stupid." really comes into play.

Michael

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But also I wonder about the ability of your average human being to sort out that kind of information overload in the heat of battle. Seems like that's where "Keep it simple, stupid." really comes into play.

There's that, but relatively little time is spent in hot combat compared to time spent planning and coordinating. It's in those times that extra info could (might?) be useful.

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We always have the image of the hapless officer in Aliens who sits frozen in his APC viewing video monitors as his troops get chewed up - not a cheery example. But while there is the specter of new technology being wasted upon use for micromanagement from afar, it seems that so far this new technology has been a boon to the guys at the pointy end. I just want it to remain a boon for the good guys, and not a gift from the gods for the enemy, should they get ahold of it.

There is also the concern that troops can get so dependent upon such devices that they loose touch with the skills that they need to operate without it, should it go down or be compormised.

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There is also the concern that troops can get so dependent upon such devices that they loose touch with the skills that they need to operate without it, should it go down or be compormised.

That's a concern that all officers have had since the invention of bow and arrow, and later with firearms. Which is why bayonet training is such an important part of preparation for war: the final battle of WW3 will be fought over the radio-active ruins of human civilization by competing bands armed with rocks and pointed sticks, and we cannot afford to lose that one!

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[snips]

My concern is that the means to secure them (or to neutralize/destroy the device or data within it) must be a major element in their design.

Comments or other input?

Rest assured, security is such a major element in the design of this kind of system that it severely compromises performance.

All the best,

John.

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Well, we need to take into account that was not exactly a balanced report, but rather a press release from the manufactuer.

As nearly as I can tell, this is the only factiod minable from the "Ain't our tech great!" boilerplate:

The suite consists of rugged laptops running the DisOPS ConnectTM software and locally-networked personal digital assistants (PDAs) running the DisOPS ViewTM software. Together, they enable small units to share information and collaborate from pre-mission planning through mission execution to after-action review.

During a typical mission, PDAs wirelessly connect small units to communicate the latest intelligence, enable grid-based distance calculations, GPS coordinates, photography of people or places of interest and friendly-force tracking -- all while enabling units to silently coordinate their maneuvers. Afterward, squad leaders can use their laptops to replay a comprehensive history of the mission as a tool to improve intelligence gathering and mission execution.

Awful, awful writing of course. But once you wade through the adjectives, a vague picture of what this system is emerges. It has GPS, it can take pictures, and it can data link back to a laptop or a command center probably.

Most probably, and I am just guessing, this is a refinement of the unit trackers the US uses in its MILES training, just reduced from by-vehicle to by-individual level. Logically, there is a headset on each soldier with a little camera, and what the soldier is pointing the camera at, can be replayed later for sure, and real time somewhere else probably. The system knows the location of each camera as each headset has a GPS thingie. So yes, my best guess, this is more or less the system the Marines had in Alien.

How useful would something like that be? Well, we know the Special Forces have bought some, but that is proof of little but excess funds. To judge the value of the system, you have to wonder how much a photoheadset with GPS gets you, for whatever price you pay for it. The press release doesn't say anything about how much whatever the US Special Forces Command bought, set back the US taxpayer.

In any case, it's not like remote cameras with an uplink are brand new, UAVes have been able to do that for a while. The difference here is - again, I suspect don't know - you are sticking the intell collection capacity of a UAV on a soldier's head.

Right now I am kind of wondering, wouldn't it be better to just have more recon-capable soldiers, than a remote camera and GPS transmitter stuck on a soldier's head? Or maybe use the money for an on-the-ground spy to tell the cool special forces troopers where to look. But that's just me being prejudiced, probably.

Besides the encryption issue that John pointed out, there is the not inconsiderable point that the moment you field this system, the soldiers carrying it are a whole lot less able to escape observation from higher command. Given the nature of soldiers and reconnaissance, I would suspect that would undermine the system, the scouts would turn it off or fox it alot, as otherwise field soldiering gets really difficult.

Unlike a UAV, a soldier - even the very best - will goof off at times, and will avoid supervision at times. So all in all I suspect this "system" would not be quite as great as the manufacturer is making it out to be, as the user - the soldier - would definately want to turn it off from time to time.

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Besides the encryption issue that John pointed out, there is the not inconsiderable point that the moment you field this system, the soldiers carrying it are a whole lot less able to escape observation from higher command. Given the nature of soldiers and reconnaissance, I would suspect that would undermine the system, the scouts would turn it off or fox it alot, as otherwise field soldiering gets really difficult.

This is where - AIUI - the Singaporean system differs. Its designed to push useful info down the food chain, rather than sucking yet more data up.

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JonS, what does "I'm beached as mean?" The whale video in your sig is very interesting. What role does "as" play?

The whole vid is taking the piss out of Kiwi slang and accents.

The 'as' is a contraction of a phrase. So, "green as grass" becomes "green as". It also betrays a certain lack of imagination - the speaker can't come up with an coherent comparison, and cuts it off at the as, rather than troubling themselves with coming up with a witty and coherent turn of phrase. AFAIK, there is no "beached as a __________", (well, apart from "beached as a whale") so it isn't a contraction, just a jab at our linguistic lack of imagination.

And it makes me lulz :D

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I like the idea of Singaporean system. Grunts usually do need or would like to have more info than they get.

Then again leaders nightmare are grunts from squads and platoons who are always hanging in his sleeve asking questions when he has to keep all the strings in his hand.

Principles of good order easily breaks. I've read situations where whole divisions advance has halted because one of regiment commander didn't tell his troops enough, troops didn't execute his order (which seemed to be too idiotic and result seemed too much slaugther), few executions which had zero effect on discipline of troops. Day or two waiting until they are told by division commander (who came to see what is going on) that they get plenty of support from artillery and other units of division, after that troops executed order in motivated fashion. All that could have been evaded if regiment's commander would have told his men in the first place that they get plenty of support. And outsider have even told that the leader wasn't bad, but quite good infact.

That is extreme example, but i can think this happening on regular basis in platoons which don't get enough info from higher up, PL might not have opportunity to share info to his men, of check the latest news. Too many steps to deliver info down, too much time consumed and so forth.

Squads and platoons having flood of (filtered) information at their hands indeed sounds great thing.

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The whole vid is taking the piss out of Kiwi slang and accents.

The 'as' is a contraction of a phrase. So, "green as grass" becomes "green as". It also betrays a certain lack of imagination - the speaker can't come up with an coherent comparison, and cuts it off at the as, rather than troubling themselves with coming up with a witty and coherent turn of phrase. AFAIK, there is no "beached as a __________", (well, apart from "beached as a whale") so it isn't a contraction, just a jab at our linguistic lack of imagination.

And it makes me lulz :D

c.f. Stalin's Organist.

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Good communications aren't improved by overloading them. The information stream does have to be managed and the resources required for this aren't insignificant - at the very least you're looking at increasing your manpower by a squad for a company.

So your intra-unit comms scheme has to change - the bloke at the pointy end had to know and trust his information source (as ever) which means he should be dealing with someone recognised for information management skills. A good place for the XO, perhaps? At least for analysis of raw data before promulgation of relevant, "clean" data. And all of this taking place in real time. Whew.

What hardware/software packages are the Singaporeans using? My experience with computers is that they can be relied on in the same fashion as people i.e. they are subject to Murphy's Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong, in the worst possible fashion, at the worst possible time.

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[snips]

Squads and platoons having flood of (filtered) information at their hands indeed sounds great thing.

It might have been Claude Shannon who said it originally, but I heard it first from Graham Mathieson when he said "Everbody asks who consumes information. Nobody asks what information consumes. But the answer is fairly obvious; information consumes the attention of the user."

Now, do you want infantrymen head-down looking at their PBI-Pod, or head-up looking at the bad guys trying to hide behind that tree?

All the best,

John.

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It might have been Claude Shannon who said it originally, but I heard it first from Graham Mathieson when he said "Everbody asks who consumes information. Nobody asks what information consumes. But the answer is fairly obvious; information consumes the attention of the user."

Now, do you want infantrymen head-down looking at their PBI-Pod, or head-up looking at the bad guys trying to hide behind that tree?

All the best,

John.

I think that angle is already covered in the replies above: this is not about utility in the middle of a firefight. More about helping to plan where and when you get into that ifrefight in the first place.

But as ever, it's not the information you have, but what you do with it. It's still going to be up to the quality of the officer on the ground whether he can assimilate that extra data into a winning plan or conversely, become paralysed by the sheer weight of potentially contradictory data he is now privvy to.

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Obviously there are a lot of potential pitfalls in this, and it looks like we have enough resident skeptics here to cover that angle already. That said, if well handled, some of the stuff I've seen proposed makes a lot of sense. Sure, it's silly to expect some lieutenant to be able to handle a platoon's worth of helmet cameras, bioreadouts, UAV feeds, etc. ala Aliens, without a lot of work being done to make this stuff manageable and intuitive.

Here's an example of how I think it could be well handled. You have massive amounts of sensor data about an area, and orders to go there and conduct some sort of operation. Using the combination of virtual reality and the military equivalent of Google Maps meets Operation Flashpoint, it should be technically possible to conduct rehearsals of actions on the objective while you're riding in your vehicles on your way to the objective area. This seems to me to be a potentially significant military advantage - ideally it can help provide some impromptu familiarity with local conditions.

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It might have been Claude Shannon who said it originally, but I heard it first from Graham Mathieson when he said "Everbody asks who consumes information. Nobody asks what information consumes. But the answer is fairly obvious; information consumes the attention of the user."

Now, do you want infantrymen head-down looking at their PBI-Pod, or head-up looking at the bad guys trying to hide behind that tree?

It also gets rough when you start designing forces around the idea of translating "information advantages" into combat power and trading off other capabilities. FCS, and if memory serves FRES (if it still exists?) are both examples. It is pretty easy to imagine that these "fast, nimble" forces may well end up sitting tight waiting for the intel picture to clear up before moving out, where modern heavy forces are already well prepared to just go out and find people.

In the U.S. Army's transition to a modular division structure, one of the things we gave up was our division cavalry squadron. We may miss having a screening force designed to be able to get out there and fight for information. UAVs just don't do the same thing.

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it should be technically possible to conduct rehearsals of actions on the objective while you're riding in your vehicles on your way to the objective area. This seems to me to be a potentially significant military advantage - ideally it can help provide some impromptu familiarity with local conditions.

Until one of the Rangers rappels out of the chopper without doing his harness up. ;)

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