Monday, April 26, 2010

Computers for Shooters

Two weeks ago I listened to a Marine Corps Brig Gen making a plea for a lightweight personal computer for use by shooters at the squad level. All of the talk he heard about net-centric networks was meaningless because it did not reach where it was needed.

The planner’s slides that promised connectivity for everyone were fiction. The existing radios were just too heavy and the antennas gave snipers targets. If the civilians could walk around with Black Berries why could not DoD provide comparable services?

There is no reason why we should not provide our fighters with a shirt pocket five-ounce device with a 3.7" color touch screen, GPS, camera and at least a seven-hour power supply for less than $300.
There are several programmable commercial products that can do that as illustrated below:

A Programmable Android Cell Phone

There are several issues that must be solved before we can proceed:

1. Training
The key to adapting computers in the combat environment is simplicity and persistence. Soldiers should be able to use a variety of computing devices regardless how the technology changes. Recruits ought to receive their shirt pocket appliance at the same time when they get their rifle. The graphic buttons on the appliance would be standard icons, with added variations for the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force. Unique buttons could be designed for specific purposes or for designated individuals. This approach guarantees training continuity over decades. Such proprietary buttons can be programmed using device specific Application Programming Interfaces.

2. Communications
3G cell towers or Wi-Max transmitters can be erected in the battlefield or on military bases for encrypted transmission. Protected commercial circuits can be also used if additional safeguards are installed. The visual persistence of the shirt pocket devices can apply also to desktops, laptops or note pads. Regardless of technology all accesses to the DoD private networks can be identical.

3. Security
The shooter’s computer is stripped of every application that is not accessible by means of a standard graphic “button”. Standard code reduces the attack profile to intrusions. Consequently the code for every function will represent mature software that can be modified only by the designers. Each “button” then offers access privileges based on the roles that are assigned to an individual, regardless of location. Central network control monitors all traffic including awareness as to the uses of the phone.

4. Social Computing
One graphic “button” can be reserved for access to the public Internet. It offers access to a virtual server that is completely isolated from military networks provided that bandwidth capacity is available. For details see http://pstrassmann.blogspot.com/.

5. Performance
Access to a screen should take less than a second. Combat requires response times of less than 250 miliseconds. Redundancy in communications must guarantee scheduled availability at all times. To meet these requirements will require a complete overhaul in the ways in which DoD manages its data centers and its networks.
   
SUMMARY:
Creating a uniform communications environment for our war fighters is not only feasible, but is also reduces costs. It scales down the time needed for learning how extract data from diverse sources. It improves security by relying on “thin” computing for access to intelligence regardless of location. Simplification of the user interface creates reusable software components, which increase the reliability of all communications.

The shooter’s computer is feasible because the technology risks are manageable. There is no reason to wait any longer.
 

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