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'Dragon's Egg' hurlable weeble-cams for US digi-troopers

Land Warrior back, too. UK still working on Wheels 2.0

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US forces have become the latest to adopt a throwable camera system, intended to let combat troops see inside rooms, around corners and so on without exposing themselves to danger. Israeli forces have also used such equipment: the UK's MoD, by contrast, has chosen to fund British firms to develop a homegrown alternative.

The US system is known as "Dragon's Egg", and like most of its kind it's about the size of a cricket ball and is intended to be lobbed through doors, windows, around corners etc. by close-combat troops. The AP reports that it's now going into the field with the US 5th Stryker Brigade Combat team*, who are also equipped with "Land Warrior" digi-soldier gear.

According to Octatron Inc, makers of the Dragon Egg:

The patented Dragon Egg™ System is the original, throwable, wireless camera. Self-righting, rugged, and compact, the Dragon Egg™ can be thrown through windows, over walls, or lowered from rooftops to provide instant surveillance. Using four separate cameras, each Dragon Egg™ provides 360° of simultaneous video coverage with no need to pan or tilt, which ensures continuous surveillance. The transmitted video can be viewed on multiple receivers.

One trooper in each platoon** carries weeble-esque Dragon Eggs. Team leaders and above also have Land Warrior, with satnav, text minikeyboard and flip-down video monocle showing battle maps and the like.

Land Warrior went to war in Iraq with an infantry unit in 2007/08, and has changed significantly from its original configuration: the jury remains out as to whether the US Army will embrace it or not. Some form of digi-soldier gear at some point would seem inevitable, however, with many different programmes just in America working towards similar goals.

The new throwable cameras are mainly intended to cut down the risk - and severe stress - of being the first man through a door or round a corner, with no idea what you're getting into. It's also hoped that they could reduce accidental killing of civilians. Israeli forces have already deployed a similar gadget during last year's heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Blighty, with thousands of troops engaged in heavy fighting right now - and with some at home suggesting that 200 casualties so far means that the UK should withdraw from active combat in Afghanistan*** - has nonetheless so far failed to deploy any chuckable-camera gear. Instead it has chosen to hand out MoD seed money to British companies, with nothing concrete appearing as yet. The proposed UK-developed "I-Ball" was "in its early stages" at the end of last year, according to the MoD.

The UK's FIST project, the British answer to Land Warrior and its ilk, is likewise spending money fast - it has a total budget of £2bn - but, again, not producing anything much. ®

Bootnotes

*The unit referred to in the article is the 1st US Cavalry, but this unit belongs to the 5th SBCT, deploying to Spin Boldak - who are at the moment the only unit in the field using Land Warrior.

**Seems wrong to UK readers, we know, but the US cavalry does have platoons. A US cav "squadron" is comprised of companies each made up of platoons, and is thus about the same size as a British cavalry "regiment".

***For reference, US forces are now passing 537 hostile-action deaths in Afghanistan, or more than 700 if all deaths of military personnel in theatre are included (as is normal). The US Iraq death toll is now well past 4,000. British forces have now withdrawn from Iraq after suffering 179 deaths.

In personnel terms, the US armed forces are just over 1.4 million strong, while the UK forces number just under 200,000.

Per head, a US service person's risk of being killed in Iraq since 9/11 has been triple the risk run by a Brit. In Afghanistan, however, Blighty has thus far been sticking its corporate military neck out furthest, with Brits overall running twice as much risk of dying in the 'Stan as Yanks.

This seems likely to change soon, with large numbers of US marines joining Brits on the ground in some of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

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