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Technology Paves the Way

Fri, 03/28/2003 - 10:29am

By Kim Stokes, Editor-in -Chief, kstokes@cahners.com
     As I watched the war unfold last Wednesday night, it seemed impossible that 10 years had passed since the first Gulf War. I don't recall watching it on TV. Surely there weren't live cameras waiting for the action to begin. There weren't reporters embedded with the troops, reporting in real-time. There certainly weren't "tankcams" taking us right into the action.

As I watched CNN, I was transfixed on the night vision view of Baghdad. I was in awe: if the city was attacked at that moment, we'd be watching it in real-time. The news anchor's words rang in my ears, "GPS... via videophone... Satellite..." and I realized how innovative the technology has become, and how much more vital these technologies are to the world, besides "Locate the closest Chinese Restaurant."

Ten years ago, the bombs used were not much different than the U.S. used in World War II or Vietnam. These gravity bombs had little accuracy. In the mid-1980s, the military struggled with the price tag of GPS guided weapons. However, as GPS receivers were embraced by the commercial sector, the price tag came down, and made it easier for them to justify the price.

Few U.S. airplanes were capable of using precision weapons in the first war. Less than 25% of those bombs hit their targets. Today, almost every plane that flies a striking mission carries laser-guided or satellite-guided missiles. The Patriot PAC-III, the next-generation of the Patriot PAC-II used in the first Gulf War has an increased accuracy rate to within feet of its target.

One technological advance that is increasingly critical in this war is the military's communications ability. Standard equipment in many Humvees, tanks, and helicopters is the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2). This Internet-based communication system gives soldiers the ability to see and post their positions to help eliminate the "fog of war" and prevent friendly fire. The FBCB2 collects data from GPS Satellite sensors on the vehicle and integrates them with battlefield intelligence from a variety of sources. This data is continuously updated on a secure website and 'beamed' to mobile units on the field. Email communications provide additional information.

The Central Command Commander watches every maneuver of the troops from command headquarters. Commanders in the rear of the battle are able to see the fighting in almost real-time. While the military is aware of their dependency on GPS technology, no one denies the limitations the technology has, including the security of sensitive data. It's no secret that with a small Russian jamming device, the military could lose their GPS abilities and be left virtually blind in the field. I can't help but wonder how past wars would have been different with this technology? Would the Civil War have lasted as long had the early 'conservative' Union Generals been able to see that in most cases they significantly outnumbered the Confederate Army? Like every other war, technological advances will be analyzed and debated for years to come. The future of these advances will be decided in the coming months, and the World's wars will never be the same.

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