Everyone has seen the slide. At some point over the past decade, if you’ve attended a briefing by a U.S. Army officer talking about networking the force, you’ve seen it. Typically, it shows manned and unmanned air assets above a battlefield, which is adjacent to a large body of water with a naval vessel offshore. On the ground are some military vehicles as well as various manned and unmanned systems. All of this hardware is connected by dotted lines representing the information that all of these “nodes” are sharing and pushing out to one another, meant to show how a fully integrated and networked force will operate, and how real-time intelligence can be pushed anywhere on the grid to the benefit of all.
As we’ve recently found out—but what we’ve long suspected—that networked future ain’t exactly all it's cracked up to be.
But those slides. They always looked too good to be true, but they always seemed somewhat opaque. What would that actually look like in practice? To satisfy his curiosity, Jim Overholt, Senior Research Scientist, Robotics at the Army’s TARDEC shop, asked his staff to put together a picture of all of the controllers that would be required to actually have all of these communications devices operating at once on a battlefield—and at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International symposium last week he showed the results to the audience. When all is said and done, it would require 24 different manned controller systems staffed by soldiers, airmen, sailors and contractors operating simultaneously in order to keep information bouncing around the battlefield in the way the Pentagon envisioned over much of the past decade and a half. That’s a lot of manpower for an unmanned battlespace.