Hide and Seek

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Hide and Seek

Science, technology, and life.
Sept. 24 2009 10:09 AM

Hide and Seek

This week, the U.S. Army announced its " Top Ten Greatest Inventions of 2008 ." It's pretty clear what the Army is most excited about: the ability to see and kill the enemy from where you aren't.

Guerrillas and terrorists already have this ability , in the form of improvised explosive devices . They also have two other advantages: the element of surprise (through indigenous deployment) and fewer compunctions about collateral fatalities. To counteract these advantages, the Army needs the ability to scout and fire from places where soldiers aren't vulnerable to attack. That's what this year's celebrated innovations deliver.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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First on the Army's list is the XM153 Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station:

Capable of being mounted on a variety of vehicles, this system provides the capability to remotely aim and fire a suite of crew-served weapons from either a stationary platform or while on the move, using the system power of the host vehicle. The system affords increased Soldier protection since the gunner is not exposed. It enhances target acquisition, identification, and engagement capabilities for non-turreted light armored vehicles; and also situational awareness during both day and night conditions using day and thermal cameras.

As you can see from these photos (PDF), the system turns a nonturreted vehicle into a turreted vehicle, except that the gunner doesn't have to be near the turret. He can "remotely aim and fire" any of its weapons. And he doesn't need night-vision equipment; the gun's thermal camera does that for him.

Next on the list:

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The Projectile Detection Cueing 4-Corner System is a low cost acoustic gunfire detection system capable of detecting and locating the origin of incoming gunfire events. The Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station Lightning is a lightweight common remotely operated weapon station capable of supporting small arms weapons. ... The operator can monitor, control, and command both PDCue and CROWS Lightning from a single user interface. The integrated system increases Soldier effectiveness in detecting and locating enemy sniper positions, and provides the Soldier the ability to automatically move remote weapon stations to the detected sniper threat.

This works with the CROWS system above: From wherever you hunker down with the user interface, you can acoustically trace the location (PDF) of anyone firing nearby and send your "remote weapon station" to take him out.

Further down:

The Enhanced Mobile Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment Vehicle system combines multiple intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities onto a single, integrated platform. ... The system gives remote operating units the ability to quickly employ the system's combined capabilities to detect imminent attacks and take the appropriate actions to defeat enemy forces.

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An aerostat is a buoyant aircraft . You can get a pretty good idea of the concept from these Raytheon photos (PDF): You float artificial eyes up into the sky, locate the enemy from there, and kill him.

And finally:

The One System Remote Video Terminal A-kit is an innovative modular video and data system that enables Soldiers to remotely receive near-real-time surveillance image and geospatial data directly from tactical unmanned aerial vehicles and manned platforms.

This AAI brochure (PDF) illustrates the basic technology: From wherever you are with your portable screen, you tap into a nearby drone and scout the whole area without poking your head out.

The overall pattern of these innovations is a gradual correction of guerrilla and terrorist advantages. We can't ambush, fire, and bomb as freely as the enemy can. We're much more vulnerable, emotionally and politically, to casualties among our fighters. We need the ability to hunt bombers and snipers patiently and precisely, without killing civilians or exposing our soldiers to easy attack. Step by step, technology is making that fantasy real.