Sunday, January 2, 2011

Military Tech Follow Up

Via Matthew Yglesias, Ellen Nakashima and Craig Whitlock of the the Washington Post have an article on a new surveillance plane the Air Force is set to deploy in Afghanistan. Known as Gorgon, after the Greek creature whose stare turned people into stone, this is supposed to be a revolutionary leap in surveillance technology. Instead of getting single images of actions on the ground, the surveillance system has multiple cameras mounted on a plane to allow a panoramic view of the entire battlefield. Unfortunately, having knowledge of the movements of people does not mean we know why those people are moving in the first place:

But other military officials caution that a counterinsurgency requires an understanding of the local population.

"That really only comes from human intelligence or boots on the ground," said Army Col. Steven A. Beckman, the former intelligence chief for coalition forces in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

"We can get the 3-D geo-intelligence that tells us what every building, what every street looks like in Marja," he said at the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation conference in New Orleans in November. But such intelligence needs to be "underpinned by a degree of local knowledge . . . to enable us to maximize that."
Say the military sees a group of young men rushing into a building in the path of a US siege of a city. Without any knowledge on the ground, it is impossible to determine whether those people are rushing for cover, or instead for a place to ambush. It seems the military is falling for the same fallacy that since conflicts are changing then technology must be the solution. Another telling quote from the article illustrates that point:
The hunger for these high-tech tools was evident at the conference, where officials told several thousand industry and intelligence officials they had to move "at the speed of war." Cartwright pressed for solutions, even partial ones, in a year or less.
It is not as if conflicts occur faster than they did before. Instead, the zones of combat and the combatants themselves are more fluid. But in the eyes of military brass, the changing nature of conflicts demands a natural progression in our technological capabilities in fighting it. This progression is not natural, however. It seems to be woven in how military procurement, as well as, defense contracting ties exist. In a world where the largest military technology corporations have the biggest sway on military policy then obviously more technology will be the solution.

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