US military crowdsourcing communications

Marketing site, Brandchannel, reports on a US Army program, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS or ‘Jitters’), which they say is going to crowdsource video surveillance on the battlefield. Actually, if you watch the embedded video piece from the US Army itself, you’ll see that the program is much more fundamental than this, it is about integrating different radio systems and trying to make the best use of scarce EM bandwidth in order to allow all kinds of more efficient communications – which would of course include video surveillance data or any other kind of data sent over wireless.

However, all is not what Brandchannel thinks. According to Global Security, the JTRS program was already in trouble back in 2005 and rumours of its demise continued to circulate – Wired’s Danger Room reported on this back in 2007. It is still in existence but has been scaled back, the contractors have switched and the costs have risen to more than $1Bn.

The latest bit of boosterism, and claims from the JTRS people that the system will include the ability for troops to access surveillance images from military UAVs and could be in place by 2014, comes therefore in this context, and also in the context of the hacking of US military surveillance drones by insurgents using cheap Russian TV downloading software. One of the really interesting things about this is how the context of military expertise is changing: one of the key justifications for all this is the concept that US troops will already be familiar with handheld devices and streaming video etc. Network-centric warfare turns out to be no different from kids using their iPhones  to watch movies… if, of course, it ever actually works.

Pentagon seeks bids for 3D-surveillance system

DARPA are seeking bids for a high resolution three-dimensional battlefield surveillance system. The so-called Fine Detail Optical Surveillance (FDOS) program is looking to develop “a fundamentally new optical ISR capability that can provide ultra high-resolution 3D images for rapid, in-field identification of a diverse set of targets… for use in an active battlefield or hostile environments with designs tailored to allow for soldier portable applications as well as UAV integration.”

As Wired maagazine points out, the Pentagon are already deep into a virtual 3D surveillance scheme, the evily-named Gorgon Stare, that involves 12 cameras attached to Reaper drones, and DARPA already have another development programme called Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Imaging System (ARGUS-IS), which involves “a 1.8 Gigapixels video sensor”. There’s more details here.

Artist's Impression of the ARGUS system (Wired)

There’s no getting away from it: semi-autonomous robots and unmanned aerial vehicles are the new silver bullet for both military and civil uses, both in surveillance and warfighting itself. It’s about time more researchers and activitists paid this some greater attention…