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Battlefield 2001

Imagine a battlefield system that uses artificial intelligence, allowing commanders to simulate the action before they go to the battlefield. Or, imagine a high-speed intranet that links navy bases and, ultimately, battleships via audio and videoconferencing. Or, imagine an Army and Air Force procurement system that embraces the Fortune 1000's best practices to seamlessly move military supplies to where they are needed when they are needed.

As the world finds itself in the war against terrorism, these and other scenarios are quickly becoming a reality. Shortly after the September 11th attacks, the DOD's Joint Information Operations Center awarded $30 million to CACI to develop a system to model and simulate battlefield situations to train senior commanders in managing information operations. EDS was awarded a $6.9 billion contract to build The Navy Marine Corps Internet (NMCI), a project that will eventually provide more than 400,000 sailors and Marines with the ability to exchange data, audio, and video over a secure network linking more than 300 sites. And Keane Federal Systems was recently awarded a $127 million contract to build an Integrated Logistics System Supply to update the U.S. Air Force's supply chain. ("Military Might," VAR Business, October 15, 2001.)

Technology is amplifying the Pentagon's power to spot and attack an elusive enemy. There are numerous developments, including new techniques for covert surveillance, the use of smart weapons, and vision enhancement for the troops. Radar-equipped planes, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as Global Hawk can find and follow moving targets, map terrain, and eavesdrop on communications. New smart bombs and cruise missiles, guided by GPS signals, not only can find targets in any weather, but they also can distinguish a bus from a truck and hit the right one. Ground troops equipped with night-vision systems (capable of seeing from 500 yards to several miles through the dark) can let commandos confirm terrorist camps without getting too near, while satellite technology allows them to upload what each team member sees to a command center. Because of such developments, today's soldiers do not need to get belly to belly to get confirmation of a target. ("From Smart to Brilliant Weapons," BusinessWeek, October 8, 2001.)

Knowing position location is of immense value to many military and commercial applications. The significant reduction in the cost and size of GPS receivers has fueled developments in recent years. According to one company producing such ultra–wide-band localizers, Aetherwire & Location, Inc., the combination of telecommunication and accurate position location capability within devices introduces the potential for a host of new military and commercial applications, including these:

  • Monitoring large numbers of sensors dispersed over an area for nuclear, biological, or chemical threats

  • Performing geospatial registration for war fighter visualization

  • Synthesizing large-aperture antennas for tight beam communication, using scattered transceivers that know their precise relative location and synchronization

  • Surveying and handling construction

  • Keeping track of mines, armaments, equipment, vehicles, and so on

  • Keeping track of personal items, such as one's children, pets, car, purse, and luggage

  • Doing inventory control in stores, warehouses, shipyards, railroad yards, and so on

  • Finding fire fighters in a burning building, police officers in distress, or injured skiers on a ski slope

  • Arbitrating rules in a sports game, playing back motions for coaching, or viewing the re-creation of an event.

  • Implementing home automation, with keyless locks and rooms that adjust light, temperature, and music sound level

  • Automatically adjusting camera focus and motion-tracking for matching digital effects in motion pictures

For the first time, soldiers can view spy satellite ground photos in near–real time, using the Broadcast Request Imagery Technology Experiment (BRITE). The compact system can be carried into the field and operated with a laptop computer. Military units equipped with the system can radio ground coordinates to controllers of satellites. The controllers aim the satellites at the requested target and transmit high-resolution satellite pictures to the ground troops. This allows a unit to view a region, such as a suspected terrorist training camp on the other side of a mountain, in near–real time and can make more precise tactical decisions. Officials say that the system is ideally suited for a clandestine war on terrorism. Spy satellite coverage can be conducted 24 hours with a resolution of as small as 4 inches across. ("Search for Bin Laden extends to Earth Orbit," USA Today, October 11, 2001.)

Just last year, a platoon from the 82nd Airborne Division was among the first group of soldiers to go into combat exercises wearing computer-oriented equipment. The platoon's equipment included a helmet-mounted video display, an M-4 rifle that can use either a video or a thermal sight, a radio that includes a GPS receiver, two computers, and two thin film batteries to power everything for 12 hours in the field. The soldiers were to use their GPS receivers, digital compasses, and laser range-finders to locate targets, and then to use their "radios" to relay target information to other platoon members and to artillery units. ("Future Soldier", Popular Science, July 2000.)

As Ray Kurzweil predicts, "By the end of this decade, we'll have images written directly to our retinas from our eyeglasses and contact lenses, very high bandwidth wireless connection to the Internet available at all times, and the electronics for all this woven into our clothing." Today's battlefield wearables may become tomorrow's fashion statements. ("A Dialog with the New York Times on the Technological Implications of the September 11 Disaster.")

As the sun set on September 11th, we approached the dawning of a new era in communications. An era characterized by wearable computing, visual and sensory communications, wireless networking, position location, distributed architectures, and biometric security. Today's military applications will likely become tomorrow's commercial successes.

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