Feeds

Gaming 4G warfare for the USAF, with rayguns

Among other things...

Security for virtualized datacentres

In press coverage of how virtual wargames will revolutionize actual war, the lion's share of publicity has generally gone to private sector boffins bankrolled by the US Army. Most often, they appear as wizards from the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies. Journalists love the place and can't resist its toys, which in ICT's case, have been peddled as amalgams of Hollywood's most creative and the cutting edge of the military.

The Institute produced the well-known Full Spectrum Warrior, a training tool shilled in game stores. At the time, one Army commander not blinded by the glitz of the technology, said the simulation had been watered down to appeal to gamers and while not utterly useless, was "incredibly shallow."

A couple of years earlier, the US Army had pimped America's Army as an enlistment aid, and it was a wild success as a free download. But the Army now focuses on more mundane tools, like simple TV ads appealing to bravery and adjusting entrance standards downwards, with moral waivers to permit the induction of undesirables with criminal backgrounds.

It is worth recalling one hallucinatory claim referencing America's Army, taken from Salon magazine in 2002. America's Army and computer wargames, it claimed, would contribute to molding a force of "dedicated young men and women, their weapons merged into an information network that enables them to cut out with surgical precision the cancer that threatens us all - heat-packing humanitarians who leave the innocent unscathed, and full of renewed hope. In their wake, democracy... and an Arab world restored to full flower... defended on all fronts by the best of the digital generation."

Another war simulation underwritten by the US military, and one which hasn't received much notice is Point of Attack 2. It is a brutally painful statistical treatment of weaponry in which the mechanics of death are derived through an almost infinite number of calculations - it seems tailor made for Pentagon wonks.

A 2003 report blandly entitled "Analysis of Advanced Technology Weapons in Homeland Defense," written by Dr. Scott Hamilton, recently obtained from the National Technical Information Service, discusses an unusual aspect of it.

Hamilton, the author of the game, writes: "As part of a previous [United States Air Force funded] research project... HPS simulations developed a combat simulation software package capable of modeling the effects of conventional and advanced weapons on the modern battlefield, including those based on High-Powered Microwaves (HPM), Laser and other forms of radiation."

Hamilton posited that developments in the war on terror showed a need for being able to model terror attacks beyond the basic application of bombs and bullets. "The objective of the project was to research how the existing Point of Attack 2 software can be used to model small level attacks on critical installations, and how advanced energy weapons and other non-conventional systems can be used in these situations to best advantage," he writes.

As focus, Hamilton chose Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a target for terrorists bent on acquiring weapons and spreading mayhem. The need had arisen, he reasoned, to have a simulation to model non-lethal weapons so that the enemy would be left over after being defeated. "...[Finding] weapons and methods that leave a significant number of attackers for questioning after the attack would also be the greatest advantage."

Two test scenarios were devised for the Air Force to game using POA2. One posited a terrorist strike team stealing a US Army M-THEL laser, another a mixed Air Force security detachment armed with a truck-mounted non-lethal weapon called a "Maser" which apparently leaves targets insensate.

Yes, if you've grokked this to be astonishing, the formal gaming analysis of terrorists and the US military fighting each other with rayguns in a mid-sized city, that's right.

The report does not discuss what was learned but does show results from one game, an "al Qaeda marginal victory."

Although not particularly well known, POA2 is sold to civilians and includes the designed terror attacks on Albuquerque as part of its library of scenarios, the rest of which are perfectly conventional applications. Replay of the two based in Albuquerque found lethal and non-lethal directed energy weapons indecisive, almost a distraction. This is somewhat reassuring since it indicates there is no miraculous revolution in military affairs to be had, the type of notion that contributed to the current American predicament.

The design of the game enforces a realistic fog of war in which the tactical situation, as it unfolds in real time, is mostly unknowable. In game life, crap happens, forcing the player to allow POA2 to run istelf according to doctrines and direction by artificial intelligence. In these cases, there is little advantage in the use of theoretical weaponry over standard brute force. It is simply easier to allow the police forces and military to kill 'em all and take stock later.

However, it is here where the value of the simulation revealed itself. Since it is designed to cover urban combat, it is ideally suited to set ups in which the US military fights hand-to-hand against a low-tech enemy in a failed state - like Iraq.

A key feature is the active presence of civilians everywhere. Within the constraints of the game, they cannot be distinguished from a guerilla force, with predictable and dire results. Once an American force begins firing upon locals mistaken for an enemy with which it is closely engaged, the outcome becomes impossible to control, the results dismaying. Command breaks down and disasters, draws or marginal victories are what ensues.

There are no graphics and minimal sound. POA2 makes the PC crunch away on ballistics algorithms, flashing outcomes, bullet by bullet, shell by shell. When no one can shoot at each other anymore, it displays the tally of the dead and destroyed treasure of each side, sifted by what weapons systems killed and crushed what. It's furnished in spreadsheet form. And this must be one of the practical reasons the Air Force wanted it - to run simulations of various mixes of weapons systems fighting each other.

Point of Attack 2, quietly released in the the entertainment sector for a couple of years, seems to be a good use of taxpayer money. It is an absorbing wargame for a niche audience but not fun in the conventional sense. It certainly has no use as a recruitment tool and cannot mold a player into a heat-packing humanitarian ready to bring hope and democracy to the Arab world. ®

George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighborhood hardware stores.

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Bono: Apple will sort out monetising music where the labels failed
Remastered so hard it would be difficult or impossible to master it again
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.