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November 04, 2004

On the vagaries of experimentation.

As regular readers know, I'm at Fort Benning working on an Army experiment. We're taking concepts, existing technology, and nascent technology, melding them together, trying to get an idea of ways to dramatically enhance the light/medium infantry platoon's effectiveness. Just like a business, the Army wants higher productivity out of our soldiers, and we are trying to leverage technology to do that.

We're also trying to do it faster than we did historically.

So, we've got a platoon here, comprised of about 2/3's recent combat vets, under the command of a 2nd Lieutenant.

We've got them instrumented with data-capture devices that attempt (boy is that being nice sometimes!) to track them around our battlefield, track hits and kills, capture screen shots of their computers, logs of their chat sessions, captures of their sensor imagery, etc.

But most of this stuff is developmental, and balky, so it can be a frustrating experience for the soldiers. Which is good - because we're also capturing the ways they adapt.

So, for example, if they are using their command and control device to pull sensor imagery around - and they lose the primary data path, we're observing how they adapt to that - and whether or not they find the data useful enough to develop a work-around for, or if they just blow it off as not worth the effort.

There's a lot of useful stuff in that.

But, for someone who grew up in the Operations and Training world, it's also a little bemusing to come up to the start point and see this:

A closer view, here.

A bit bemusing indeed to see this stuff we're hanging on the troops. It's not ruggedized to milspec yet (and may never, if it proves rugged enough, or is dropped from consideration). The whole intent of this series of experiments is to get the ideas out there, in the hands of the troops, and test 'em early. Yes, we're noting all the different battery requirements, so that people can start looking at rationalizing and standardizing on batteries... but the solution may well not be to re-engineer the devices, but to develop a standard battery pack that items can plug into.

Of course, that means cords. And plugs... and maybe the value-added ain't worth the pain. That's what we're here to try and determine.

What works - and more importantly, what works well enough to make further devlopment warranted... and what should get consigned to the trash. We don't make the decisions, we just capture the data, organize it, analyze it, and make recommendations. The decisions are at several echelons above where I work!

But this process forces us to make many compromises, as we develop simulations or simulated devices that roughly mirror a future capability. Like the proposed robotic scout vehicle. We don't have any here, they are a part of a different development spiral and none are available.

So we make do. How? We mount roughly equivalent sensors on an ATV (hat tip to Sean for the pic). And radio control the ATV, so the 'Robotics NCO' in the Weapons Squad can control the ATV and use it as if it was the objective vehicle. Of course, the troops don't mind - because someone gets to drive it from the LZ (landing zone) to the LD (line of departure, where you go tactical on the way to the objective), before it goes under remote control. As related below - we've learned the hard way that it ain't worth the trouble right now to try to drive it remotely to the LD!

By doing that we can start already to develop the TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures) for the employment of the asset, even before any of the systems really exist. And not just in electronic simulation, but in the real world, with real soldiers, fresh from the Sandboxes. And what we learn from that can be incorporated over into the development spiral of the objective system, hopefully before a we-now-know-it's-worthless functionality is fully embedded and hard to remove.

Of course, there are *problems* with that... like the use of the ATV which mounts a sensor useful in urban combat. The Sergeant was maneuvering it into position pretty well, really - but like any kludged-up system, it has it's quirks. And one of those is a very sensitive throttle. Very little pressure on the stick - and the thing is popping wheelies, screaming down the avenue. Not terribly stealthy, perhaps.

However, we discovered that when employed that way, it makes a useful IED (improvised explosive device) sensor. By running over the IED and going 'boom' maybe, but hey, better than losing a soldier, right?

So, it's frustrating - but it's fun, nonetheless. Not the least of which because ya get to hang out with the upcoming Greatest Generation.

Of course, that's why I do what I do. I may not be able to walk the walk anymore, but I can help them do it better, hit harder, and come home more often.

John | Permalink | Comments (7) | Observations on things Military
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