Information Warfare: April 1, 2002

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PredatorTV- American military and civilian leaders have a new source of riveting video to see in the Afghanistan war. For the first time, we have Predator UAVs (pilotless aircraft) flying around Afghan battlefields sending back real time video of the combat action below. We have a battlefields in Afghanistan patrolled for hours on end by pilotless aircraft equipped with TV cameras, but we have yet to figure out exactly what to do with it. Most of the video feed goes to commanders equipped with the receiving equipment. Because of satellite communications links, this can include people in the White House and Pentagon. But the video is not getting to the people who really need it.

The American army has spent decades experimenting with UAVs (pilotless aircraft) equipped with cameras. Until the 1990s, it was felt that the senior commanders (battalion, brigade and division) would use this pictorial information to better plan their operations. But during the 1990s, as UAVs, TV cameras and TV broadcasting equipment got smaller, it became possible to put a camera in a small UAV and broadcast real time video back to, well, anyone with equipment that could pick up the signal and display it. By the late 1990s, a lap top computer and the proper antenna, could get the video feed. Many infantry officers quickly realized that the people who could use this stuff the most were the troops closest to the fighting. Up where the bullets are flying, the guy in charge wants to know who is behind a building or over the next hill. UAVs can show that, and for the troops fighting, information like that can mean the difference between life and death. But this kind of portable equipment has been slow to arrive for the infantry. At least the brass recognize the need, and before the war in Afghanistan is over, the company commanders can sit in their foxhole with a laptop and see what the Predator sees. These front line infantry commanders also worry about their bosses (several levels of bosses) seeing the same video and offering "advice." But the senior army commanders still remember how troublesome that was during the Vietnam, when commanders could fly over a battlefield and torment infantry commanders below with advice and orders. This was called micromanagement, and it takes a lot of self control on the part of the brass to not do it. Until this real time battlefield video gets to the front line commanders, it will remain, as one American officer described it, "entertainment for division staff." Predator will have to do better than that to earn it's keep.

 


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