Much has happened since the last Gulf War:
- Hurtling over hostile, unfamiliar landscapes at speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour, today’s combat pilots have just seconds to identify their targets.
“When you’re going a mile every six seconds you don’t really have a lot of time. You need to rapidly figure out: That’s where the target area is, that’s where the friendlies are, and that’s where I’m going to put my weapon. That’s all the time you have,” said “Joe,” a U.S. Marine Corps aviator preparing for conflict with Iraq.
The last time the United States waged a major military campaign in the Persian Gulf region, pilots prepared for missions by studying detailed photos and maps. But in the 12 years since Desert Storm, the Pentagon has invested tens of millions of dollars in new technologies that let pilots actually “pre-fly” combat missions in a three-dimensional environment.
One of these systems is Topscene, developed by the U.S. Navy using technology from Mountain View, Calif.-based Silicon Graphics Inc. Pilots use Topscene to explore vast computer models of enemy environments to familiarize themselves with the quirks of the landscape — training that can help undermine the enemy’s home-field advantage.
….In 1992, the Navy had two Topscene “racks,” each of them powered by four refrigerator-sized computers housed on aircraft carriers. The Navy now has more than 300 Topscene systems — with some versions running on laptops.
Every aircraft carrier in the Navy fleet now carries a Topscene rack with flight controls and interchangeable hard drives containing 3-D models of various global “hot spots.” Exchange one shoe box-sized hard drive for another, and a pilot can leap from Afghanistan to Iraq without leaving the squadron briefing room.
The man in charge of the Pentagon’s Topscene program knows how important it is for combat pilots to be as prepared as possible for combat missions. As a B-52 bombardier in Vietnam, Alan Herod and his comrades had photos and maps of their targets, but could not practice their missions with 3-D models ahead of time.
“It was tough to go in blind, looking at a radar scope to see and identify your target where you’ve never been before,” said Herod, now a civilian Navy employee.
….Unlike combat pilots, who are being trained to accept and in some cases even demand 3-D mission rehearsal capability, ground soldiers have only recently begun to see models detailed enough to be of use in preparing for combat, Silicon Graphics’s Burwell said.
RealSite, developed by Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp., was designed with the ground soldier in mind. It allows users to recreate views from likely sniper perches or quickly measure the distance between buildings and other geographic features. Anticipating a conflict against Iraq, Harris created a 3-D RealSite model of Baghdad, complete with scale renderings of Saddam Hussein’s urban palaces and the headquarters of the Iraqi dictator’s Republican Guard. [Washington Post]
Better for our people, better for the civilians.
- Lockheed Martin Corp. sends technical representatives, or “tech reps,” to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, or other bases to help with the defense contractor’s TADS night-vision sensor used in U.S. Apache attack helicopters. When the choppers move out, so do the tech reps, who follow the equipment wherever it goes.
“You need someone there to ensure the readiness of the system, to ensure that it’s ready to fight and perform,” said Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky.
….Of course, there’s the ever-present computer help desk.
Itronix, a maker of rugged wireless computers and handheld devices for tracking troop and enemy movements, staffs a 24-hour help desk at Spokane, Washington, for its military and civilian customers.
The five-person military help desk receives about two calls a week from its customers in the United States and abroad, said Roger Cresswell, director of services market for Itronix.
The company, with locations in France, Germany, the UK and Asia, also trains at least one person from every military unit that carries its GoBook Max or GoBook II wireless computers in basic repairs, such as swapping hard drives or antenna replacement.
If field technicians can’t fix the problem, they swap the computers, which use a Microsoft Windows-based operating system, for new ones at a restocking location.
Common office tech support, which helps with recalcitrant computers, is much maligned in the United States, sometimes criticized for being slow or using too many technical terms. But military personnel say they greet their tech reps with relief and gratitude.
….sometimes, there are things that even the most experienced tech reps can’t help.
Once out on patrol, Keating and his crew heard a persistent rattling on board their submarine. No one could locate the source or the cause, so the boat returned to Guam for repairs.
The problem: A plastic coffee cup bouncing around in the sail. [Reuters]