'Google Earth for the Iraq insurgency' gets $115m
Could have bought ordinary Google Earth for that
Pentagon boffinry chiefs have decided to spend more than a hundred million dollars on a new military database/map system which will let troops in the field collect, share and organise intelligence more effectively.
The system in question is named TIGR, for Tactical Ground Reporting, and it has been described as "Google Maps for the Iraq counterinsurgency". It simply offers an easy way to link information to locations and times.
Mostly at the moment, if Western forces go out on patrol in a hostile area, they have very little idea what happened to those before them. Reports, pictures and so on filed by their predecessors will be accessible to intelligence officers at battalion HQ and up, but even these staff desk-jockeys will struggle to find information related to a particular location.
The idea now is that a noncommissioned or junior officer about to take out a patrol - or go anywhere or do anything - would put his proposed route into TIGR. All previous events of interest which had occurred within, say, 300m either side of the route would pop up: ambushes, roadside bombings, school visits, talks with community figures. Many of these icons would link through, not just to written reports but to pictures or other information collected by previous troops working in the area - just like Google Earth.
TIGR has already been to war. It was in the hands of some US troops as long ago as 2007, and as of last year there were 1500 small-unit leaders using it. The system has received rave reviews from returning troops.
Some have speculated that systems of this sought could force Western armies to become more agile and devolve decision-making down to lower levels and smaller units. Others suggest the exact opposite, that high commanders looking at TIGR - in effect, over the shoulder of those beneath them - will become more tempted to interfere at low levels (this is the dreaded "long screwdriver" effect).
No matter the ultimate result, TIGR seems to be staying popular. Ascend Intelligence, the company behind much of TIGR, has just received a contract award of $14m, with options that will take the deal to $115m if exercised.
To be fair to Ascend, there's a bit more to a system like TIGR than Google Earth. TIGR has to work with much less bandwidth and frequent network outages, requiring the use of many synchronised copies of the database spread across the battlefield net. It will at some point need to tie into various specialised hardware, for instance the Land Warrior wearable combat smartphone or something similar. Security needs to be top-line. With the new focus on Afghanistan, a lot of new background information will need to be put in and new networks set up.
Even so, $115m seems like a lot for this sort of capability. Perhaps the US Army just needs to spend a lot of cash before it can really trust something.
There's an interesting article on TIGR from MIT Tech Review last year here (in pdf). ®
It's always interesting to hear people hold forth on topics with which they have no familiarity. It's too bad the author is one of these.
Where do you think the imagery comes from? Satellite photography and ground-based imagery is not going to cut it. That, plus you need to do the imagery persistently (not just "one pass and you're done"), and at high resolution. That means planes/drones and specialized equipment. Then downlinking the data. Then covering hundreds of square miles. Let's not ignore the tracking and recognition aspect, either.
Just to a first approximation, ignoring the battlespace aspect of this problem, you've got something that Google would be hard-pressed to deal with. 100 mil. is a bargain price for developing and deploying this kind of tech. Remember, it was 14m just for the development -- deployment is another beast altogether.
Of course, TIGR is not the only thing out there -- similar concepts are already in play, and this is just a refinement of existing work.
And the rest of the commenters... seriously. Some things are hard. This is one of them. Hard things often cost money. Deal with it.
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So are they going to drive the Street View car through there at some point as well?
Guys, why dontcha look up some Pentagon procurement costs? F-22s are $339m/unit. Pentagon was spending $1B/wk in Iraq, wuzn't it?
If it works, if the troops like it and if it helps them, this is not the stupidest way to spend $. It sounds like a lot to programmers, but our dev cycles are not >10 yrs. At least, not usually. But $100m software budgets are not unheard of.
True, it may have little relevance to a war against "countries which can properly defend themselves", but we ain't involved in those kind of wars right now, are we? We need to get things out there that work, work now, and for these wars. Not the great US-China war of 2032 that some insist on planning for.
And winning these wars probably involves way different kit than what the big bucks are being spent on.