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The US M1A2 Abrams, and war as a video game

First test of the digitized battlespace looms...

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Over the past few months there's been no shortage of improbable military technology stories lauding the latest in risk-free smart weaponry and cyberwarfare techniques. Today, for example, AP posits spoof text messages from Saddam giving his generals misleading orders. Which we suppose would be dead clever if Saddam habitually texted orders to his general staff, and if Iraq actually had a GSM network. Which it does, kind of, but if you look at the map you'll see a slight snaggette.

The Iraqi government ordered a new GSM system from China, but as far as we can gather this is not now happening. The first stage would have consisted of 60 base stations offering capacity for 25,000 subscribers in Baghdad. The network it already has, but only sort of, covers the city of As Sulaymaniyah in Northern Iraq, where the Kurdish separatists are running it. Good plan though, all the same.

The Washington Post's contribution to the digital battlespace however has the virtue of being real. It may still present a sanitised and risk-free view of war, but that's precisely what the kit the US military is deploying is intended to do to war. The Post first, then we'll do the spec in more detail:

"The upgraded M1A2 Abrams tanks, equipped with powerful computers, laser designators and improved infrared sights, can operate either as reconnaissance sensors, passing target coordinates back to command headquarters, attack helicopters or artillery units, or as killers, destroying Iraqi armor with even greater precision and range than they did in 1991."

The army is using a network "that enables commanders across the battlefield... to track the movement of friendly forces as a battle unfolds and plot their relationship to enemy targets as the hostile forces emerge. [The vehicles are equipped with] a Global Positioning System receiver, a data link and digital information screen... each vehicle-mounted computer screen plots not only their locations, but those of all other friendly forces moving in concert with them -- and bounces that data off satellites to command posts all over the world."

Satellite imagery of the terrain is then bounced back to the screen, friendly forces show up on this as blue dots, and enemy as red.

Cool? Perhaps. We old European thinkers have always been impressed by the boundless faith the US military places in tech, in the face of past disappointments. But there's certainly a whole lot of it in the M1A2.

They have built in a digital command and control system, Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2), which you can read some more about here. BOFHs of a militaristic persuasion will appreciate the completely baffling collection of acronyms used in the FBCB2 Operator Troubleshooting Card, while there's more detailed information on FBCB2 here. Army Technology has an overview of the M1A2 System Enhancement Package, while there's a pic of FBCB2 here.

Actually, we put the last one in largely because the whole Equipment Gallery is such an amazing rocks-off collection of militarised lethal tech toys for the boys. And baffling acronyms - is that "All Source Analysis System (ASAS) Remote Work Station (RWS)" Sun kit? We think it is.

Much of us.mil's tech gear these days is so way out you keep wondering if it's a spoof. JAWS, for example: "JAWS is the Army Judge Advocate General Center's (JAGC's) single system for providing legal support to operations. The Rucksack Deployable Law (RDL) office is a computer-based system with some stand-alone capabilities... Legal organizations/personnel located at all echelons above company level, i.e., battalion, brigade, division, corps, joint task force, use JAWS to provide legal support to operations."

You're kidding, right? But the rest of USJFCOM's concepts and initiatives look real enough. But we digress. Back in the Abrams, the comms system is provided by Single Channel GRound and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS). This is the standard radio system that links everything together.

So there you go. All of the components for the digitized battlespace are real, they're being deployed, and if war breaks out us.mil will have the opportunity to see how they work. Will they? On previous experience, they'll tell us the truth just before the next war. ®

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