Video cameras small enough to be attached to a soldiers helmet, and
then turned on during combat, are becoming the hot battlefield accessory.
Combat troops want to let the folks back home, and fellow soldiers, know what
they are up against. With most soldiers in a combat zone having internet
access, these videos can be sent home immediately (or, because of slow Internet
lines, burned to a CD and mailed). This is beginning to bug the intel folks,
and even some commanders. Finding out how things are at the front via YouTube
is not something they were taught in military schools. The cameras use memory
cards, so there no film to mess with, no moving parts, and often a rechargeable
battery. The perfect battlefield accessory.
one is sure who started carrying vidcams into combat, or just on patrols, and
then reviewing the video later, looking for things that might have been missed.
Most likely it was either some Special Forces guy, or a former SOCOM type
working private security in Iraq. The concept predated Iraq, in the form of the
"lipstick cam" (a video cam the size of a lipstick) that was worn by skiers,
mountain bikers and the like, to record their thrilling heroics for later
viewing. One intrepid journalist convinced at least one soldier to wear a
lipstick cam during the 2003 advance on Baghdad.
U.S. Department of Defense wants to take the concept further. This has arrived
in the form of ASSIST (Advanced Soldier Sensor Information System and
Technology). This project is testing a wide variety of sensors that soldiers in
action, especially patrols, can just wear. The images and sound collected from
the vidcams would not just be recorded, but, with a powerful enough wi-fi
network and computers to process the data, the troops would get quick
(near-instant in some cases) feedback. The computers could be located
elsewhere, either back at headquarters, or, via satellite link, back in the
United States. This sort of "reach-back" has been used for several years
already. Most Predator UAVs flying over Iraq and Afghanistan, are piloted by
people stationed at an airbase back in the United States.
possibilities for a system like this are enormous. While many of the ideas,
currently being tossed around, may not turn out to be practical, or useful,
many will. The original idea, of just sticking a vidcam on the dashboard for
patrols, or while transporting people, proved very useful. Looking at those
videos later often revealed vulnerabilities, or even enemy preparations for an
attack. You can always miss stuff like that while zipping down the highway. But
with the replay button at hand, that happens much less often. But that's what
worries intel specialists about all the combat video on YouTube. It's showing
the enemy how combat looks through the eyes of the "infidel"
like so many other high-tech systems, will probably enter service bit-by-bit.
In effect, it was there when troops began using the vidcams. The crucial
innovation with ASSIST is capturing the data on a computer, analyzing it,
sending instant alerts to the troops, and building a database that would, over
time, reveal patterns of enemy activity, or mistakes the friendlies are making.
The current problem is that many of the troops are going out and obtaining
combat video on their own, for sentimental and entertainment purposes. The army
isn't ready to use this stuff for anything else just yet. But the YouTube vids
can be useful for the shrewd observer, and some of those work for Islamic
computer assisted analysis of video and sound data is also nothing new,
although it's only in the last decade that these theoretical capabilities have
been turned into practical results. Tests in the past year have shown that this
combination of wearable sensors and computer processing is practical. But it is
expected to take until the end of the decade before a system is available for
ASSIST would be used to record useful data while troops are on patrol, or in
combat. Each ASSIST sensor (basically a lipstick cam type unit) would include
GPS and accelerometer (measuring movement). Thus if there was any contact with
the enemy, there would be, like with the "black box" in aircraft, a record of
who was where and how fast they were moving. Data on what patterns of movement
mean what can first be obtained from training exercises. The computer would
have a database of typical reactions of troops to different situations,
enabling the software to alert commanders immediately when critical events
occur (an IED going off, or other type of ambush).