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.

Biometrics in Afghanistan

There’s a very interesting video-report from Sebastian Meyer here on the US military use of biometrics in Afghanistan to try to identify Taliban in what he calls ‘frontline anthropology’. Wired revealed last month that the NATO / US army operation is planned to be expanded into a nationwide biometric ID card scheme by next May. Wired says that there are only two biometric systems operating in Afghanistan but they don’t seem to have noticed that the UNHCR mission in the country is also using biometrics to identify returnees who¬† have already claimed the financial assistance on offer and are making fraudulent claims, in conjunction with the Afghan government. Are these systems all connected? More investigation is needed…