Will US Technology Win the “War”?

This is a great example of amazing technology that — among other things — could enable sensors to be dropped all over a war zone with pinpoint accuracy!  Seems that, “A ten-person Arizona based start-up has claimed victory in the annual US Army precision airdrop competition, claiming to have hurled disguised spy sensors from a plane flying at 10,000 feet. The “five pound fake rocks” landed “within ten, seven and three metres” of their intended touchdown points more than two miles away.

STARA’s main technology is small, custom-built autonomous guided parachutes which can be dropped from a wide variety of military aircraft to deliver smallish payloads with great accuracy. Their packages can be released from existing flare or chaff dispensers, dropped from drone aircraft, or simply “hand tossed” from the ramp of a C-130 transport to fly themselves down using a mixture of satnav and inertial guidance.

Reading this article over lunch today got me to thinking: with technology like we have, why is the US so seemingly challenged in rooting out and fighting so-called “terrorists?”  The answer is that the “war” isn’t about terrorism, spreading freedom and democracy or ensuring we have the latest technology (since we could crush any country on earth now). It’s about the oil that’s feeding our economy which is a resource you’re apparently going to be paying $4 per gallon of gasoline for by next summer and is one that would grind our economy (and the world’s) to a halt if materially disrupted.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), “Iraq holds more than 112 billion barrels of oil – the world’s second largest proven reserves. Iraq also contains 110 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and is a focal point for regional and international security issues.

US amazing technology extends to visual surveillance too and here is one example of the power of what our gignormous military budget has purchased for us.

It’s fairly common knowledge that military satellite communications (Defense Satellite Communications System or DSCS) could grab a snapshot of me holding my driver’s license out my office window from 22,000 miles into space (should they have a reason to do so) since the resolution of satellite imagery is that good.

What’s not fairly well known is that full motion video exists on these defense satellites and they have a capability of up to 200mbps which is plenty when you consider that a high quality HD stream — using the h.264 codec sending down video at, say, 1920×1088 — would fully utilize one satellite’s capacity. Lower quality video resolution would yield more “channels” of video and multiple satellites could handoff a geographic region (and video could be stored) so an area could be saturated with video capture and given to field commanders on the ground or analyzed later.

When you think of analysts scouring satellite imagery and video or I assume soon to be looking at reports from the recently introduced Harris Corp FAME system (Full-Motion Video Asset Management Engine) that “speeds the process of analyzing a wide range of intelligence information. FAME integrates video analytics, video and audio coding and processing/storage capabilities into a single digital asset management platform and provides the infrastructure for changing the way video is processed, catalogued and reviewed” it makes you wonder why we haven’t seen training camps, Bin Laden’s hangouts and so on.

When you think of the technology the US already owns, it defies logic that Bin Laden has been such a challenge to find or that the specter of some guys with box cutters are a threat to a nation with more than 1M active personnel, a $548.9B military budget, and another estimated $1 TRILLION to have been expended on Iraq by the time George Bush leaves office (while less than 3% of the 7 MILLION containers arriving in US ports are being inspected which to me, leaves a HUGE gaping hole in our nation’s defenses unless, of course, the threat is so tiny as to be a moot point…think about it).

A controlled Middle East and protecting our national interests is what this “war” is all about and don’t think for a moment it isn’t. There’s a finite amount of oil left in the world, it’s hard to get at and we may be post-peak anyway, China is coming on strong with their demand (and holds $820B in debt, the 2nd largest in the world, so we’ve got to be careful if we take all the oil away since they could call in their loans and damage our economy) and if supplies were interrupted you could kiss much of the USA Gross Domestic Product at $13.13 Trillion goodbye (along with possibly disrupting your job, food being created and getting to the shelves, and much more). These are big problems with no easy solutions.

The more I learn about world affairs the less I know and am certain about. As I learn, for example, what it takes to generate the kilowatts that *I* consume in my home — let alone the ripple effect of the energy necessary to have created and now maintaining our American consumptive lifestyle — I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem.

Since I skim and read both conservative and liberal blogs, sites, books and newspapers, I feel like I have a balanced view. When I read this article entitled, “Why did we invade Iraq, anyway? in  a liberal site that I skim, the realization sank in that this was a reasoned, fair and actually balanced perspective and I recommend giving it a read.

To wrap this up on whether or not our technology can win this “war” or not, I leave you with this thought: where the hell is the leadership on driving technology toward alternative forms of energy as well as driving us all to participate more fully in conservation?

I wrote about us On the brink of a lighting revolution over a year ago and said, “LED’s have come a long way and are found in flashlights, as automotive and signage illumination, and soon residential lighting. Worldwide about 20% of energy consumption is for lighting and LED’s could cut that in half.We’re on the brink of a new lighting revolution,” says Jerry Simmons, head of the solid-state lighting programme at America’s Sandia National Laboratory, quoted in this article (in fact one of the best I’ve read yet) in The Economist.” Barely anything has happened with LED lighting and I’m still scouring the ‘net weekly in search of breakthroughs in manufacturing and the availability of bulbs I can use instead of compact fluorescents.

The “war” is about energy and the only way to win it is to create dozens of new forms of it, create new paradigms, conserve like mad, and end up completely self-sustaining and off the importation of foreign oil. New technology innovation (and leadership to drive it) is the only way that’s going to happen.

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  1. PXLated on November 6, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    There’s a lot of losers with big political clout (and money) if we move to real alternatives or switch technologies. Until there is a way to get the same carpetbaggers pockets lined it’s hard to get change moving in the direction we need to go on any kind of scale.

  2. Economic and Culture Observer (Lenno Cornish) on February 12, 2008 at 5:56 am

    We can gain a lot of military success with such technologies. But still we need soldier to control the occupied lands. Iraq shows the limits of these soldiers’ effectiveness.

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.