Armor: February 6, 2002

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Missiles Masters on the Battlefield Internet - The idea of using the Internet on the battlefield began before there even was an Internet. When telephones and radio got their first workout during World War I (1914-18), the more thoughtful military men noticed how these new electronic gadgets allowed information to travel a lot faster across the chaos of the modern battlefield. But all this was theoretical, because telephone lines were often cut on the World War I battlefields, and the radios of the day weren't very portable. But by the time World War II (1939-45) came along, there were a lot of portable radios. Even before that, in the 1930s, American artillery officers figured out a way to get a radio or telephone message from, anywhere along miles of front line, from someone wanting a lot of firepower applied to one target and within an hour, have the fire from hundreds of artillery guns hitting that target. This 1940s era marvel scared the hell out of the Germans, but required a lot of work. There were no computers to do all the calculations required and the guy up front could make a fatal error when reporting the position of the target. 

Fast forward to 2001 and the barren hills of northern Afghanistan. The troops have better radios and other electronic gadgets for pinpointing the location of targets. Our Afghan allies are awed at how the Americans can talk into a radio, press a few buttons and then, within minutes, the ridge a mile or so in the distance disappears in a roar and cloud of dust. The enemy that was there, isn't there any more. Unless you count the body parts scattered around the large crater.

And this wasn't even exactly what the bright guys were thinking about during the 1990s. That idea, called NetFires, is still in the works. This system was designed by the army, and doesn't depend on the air force. But it does depend on a battlefield Internet that will make all the good guys aware of where all the bad guys are. That part is seen as easy, because Internet technology keeps improving and the stuff is quickly debugged by millions of eager users. Weapons that could take advantage of all this information is another matter. Even with Internet speed, valuable targets, like tanks, can keep moving. Therefore, for a battlefield Internet to work, you have to be able to hit targets almost as soon as you spot them. 

To do the killing, two new missiles were developed. The main one is PAM (Precision Attack Missile). PAM is a 178mm diameter missile that weighs a hundred pounds and has a range of 50 kilometers. PAM attacks from above, with a 28 pound warhead. This enables it to kill any tank by hitting the thinner top armor. PAMs are vertically-launched from what looks like a 4x6x4 foot (wide x deep x high) cargo container. Actually, it IS a cargo container. The missiles are shipped from the factory in this sealed container. Each one ton container holds 15 missiles and can be carried on the back of a truck or Humvee. Once you plug a PAM container into the wireless battlefield Internet, the missiles are ready to fire. Depending on how many enemy targets you expect to come your way, officers are assigned areas of the battlefield and given passwords for PAM containers in the area. These guys become the "missile masters" and are authorized to send one or more PAMs against any enemy vehicle that shows up on their screen (which could be anything from a rugged "battlefield laptop" to a larger flat screen in a headquarters tent, vehicle or bunker.) The battlefield Internet is using aircraft, UAVs, satellites and ground sensors to pick up targets. When the missile master sees a target he wants to kill, a point and click will send the coordinates of the target to a nearby PAM container, launch a PAM to the approximate location where the missiles own sensor will pick up the target and home in on it. The sensors will, most of the time, pick up the vehicle as destroyed and adjust the missile masters screen accordingly. 

Recognizing that there will be situations, like where there are a lot of woods or jungles, that will prevent sensors from spotting a lot of targets, there's a second missile, the LAM (Loitering Attack Missile), same weight and all of the PAM, except it is actually a mini-cruise missile and can fly around an assigned area for 45 minutes looking for a target. If one is not found, it just crashes. If a target is detected with the built in radar (laser radar, or LADAR, actually) and the built in software recognizes the vehicle as an enemy one, the missile attacks from above. Alas, the LAM warhead isn't large enough to take out most tanks, but anything else would likely be toast. 

The major elements of this system have already been tested, and the whole thing gets a workout in 2003. No one has any illusions about NetFires version 1.0 working all that well. So many things can go wrong with the target identification, missile reliability and the battlefield Internet itself. Once all those problems are solved (probably by version 3.0 or so), you still have to worry about what the enemy will do to defeat NetFires. Given the heavy dependence on wireless communications, NetFires will have to worry about getting hacked, jammed and generally messed with.

When you bring the Internet to the battlefield, you have to expect the hackers to be there was well. 

 


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