Sunday, June 18, 2006

Future Warriors

The Economist's latest Technology Quarterly has an article on the "future force warrior" (which you won't be able to read unless you subscribe, unfortunately; but if you Google the phrase you'll come up with a whole list of public sites). The gist of it is that the U.S. military has decided it needs to protect its soldiers better (about time, too). The technology bug has bit them, however, and instead of just investing in more Kevlar body armor, they propose turning each soldier into a walking internet node (wireless, of course), complete with sensors to tell not only where he is but how he is (vital signs, asleep or awake, etc.), portable power sources, all under lightweight Kevlar armor plates (black, of course); and with a fully integrated night vision/heads up display with video feeds from robot drone scout planes, and a data link to every other soldier and vehicle.

I'm sorry, these guys have been reading too much science fiction. They have seen Matrix and Star Trek one time too many. I'm not suggesting that your basic GI can't handle all this; with training, he probably can. I am suggesting that the designers have lost sight of the K.I.S.S. principle, and of the fact that the more complicated a system is, the more likely it is to fail in unexpected ways. I do not think it's a coincidence that the picture of the proposed outfit looks exactly like an Imperial Storm Trooper, only in black.

These designers are the same people who thought the Star Wars anti-missile defense was a good idea, despite the fact that it would have required tens of thousands of lines of software code which couldn't be debugged except under fire. Virtually every computer programmer in the world thought it was a Bad Idea, and so is this. This "battlesuit" - yes, they use the term - is so complicated that the likelihood of system failures is quite high, and the early wearers of this will be, I'm sorry, sitting ducks. The only good thing is that they'll be sitting ducks wearing Kevlar armor. In addition, if the whole thing is based on the GPS and the wireless data link, what does our soldier in his battlesuit do if the other side comes up with some easy way to jam the transmission frequencies?? Or simply blow up the transmission towers? Wireless still required line of sight, last time I looked.

Go back to the video games, guys, and just buy the boys overseas some better armor. The lightweight Kevlar armor plates are the only good idea you've come up with. The really good idea would be to come up with some way to settle international disputes without shooting at people, but that's apparently way too far out.


  1. Anonymous9:01 AM

    Did they mention how much the BattleSuit(tm) would cost? Why do the basics when you can get all high tech and fun? Maybe they are hoping it will help with recruitment.

  2. Cost? You're worrying about the cost of all this cool stuff??

    I went back and looked: the article doesn't estimate the cost of a single BattleSuit(tm). It does describe this as "a $250m effort to devise military technologies for deployment starting in 2010." Given what the GuvMint commonly spends on the defense budget, this is barely pocket change; so, as usual, they are short-changing the guys on the ground. Sigh.

    Did you know that an infantryman's pack weighs 120 pounds? I didn't.

    The article says the intent of this program is "to transform each soldier into a kind of part-human, part-machine cyborg—“an F-16 on legs”". Is this video game fever or what??

  3. Anonymous6:06 PM

    Somebody somewhere has been reading sci fi. Sc fi has had battle suits for years. In some of John Ringo's and David Weber's books the battle suits are described in detail. I'd say either we have to start somewhere, and people often laugh at before their time beginnings, or someone needs to learn the difference between science fiction and reality. Especially as we all know what happens to pioneers: a place in history, woven into myths, and monuments over their graves.

  4. Anonymous6:51 AM


    I was thinking the same thing. It reminded me of "Starship Troopers" by Robert Heinlein. Which was a much better book than movie.

    A 250 Million effort? I am sure that is just the first drop in what will be a very big bucket. I did know about the pack weight, I have some friends in the military. Wonder how much weight this stuff will add.

  5. Anonymous3:17 PM

    Spot on, hedera. When the distinction between literary and literal becomes muddled in the way it has here, one really wonders what they are ingesting and whether it is generally available as a weekend recreational aid.

    And then there is the issue of what a 110 lb. Indonesian with a large bag of rice and a low-tech infantry rifle was able to do, not to mention an angry Iraqi with some explosives and a garage door opener.

    What are these people thinking? We've got to be ready for every conceivable military obstacle when we get to Mars? Oh, I'm sorry. I just confused altered-state cognition with what we commonly mean by thinking.

    Anonymous David

  6. Anonymous3:18 PM

    I meant Indochinese, of course.

    Anonymous, easily confused David

  7. Anonymous6:44 PM

    As long as we're talking about stupid military projects, here's part of one of David Corn's posts:

    FUN FACT? Congress is debating a military appropriations bill for next year that tops over $500 billion. But let's look at the overall figure. Anyone care to guess what percentage of global military spending the Pentagon budget makes up? It's more than half. According to the Worldwatch Institute, world military expenditures in 2004 totaled $1.024 trillion dollars. And what the United States is spending on the Iraq war almost equals the combined military spending of every other nation on the planet. Which means (that) the United States could just about buy the military of every other country in the world. Now that would truly mark the triumph of capitalism.