Electronic Weapons: December 30, 2003

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The U.S. Air Force has solved a communications problem with it's E-8C Joint STARS aircraft and the ground units it supports by using the Internet. The E-8C has a powerful radar that can detect vehicles moving on the ground. The real time images of enemy movements can be very useful to nearby ground troops, if they can get the information in time. Building special communications equipment and terminals (high powered PC type stuff) proved expensive and unpopular. The troops did not want another set of equipment to look after and learn how to use. So the air force came up Dial-up Rate IP over Existing Radios (or DRIER), a software solution that broadcasts map and other data in the same format the Internet uses. Thus troops on the ground can direct the signals from the E-8C to their Internet connection, and the growing number of web based software the army uses can immediately display the E-8C data. The air force needed something like this, as the army was getting impatient about obtaining easy access to E-8C data, and were moving more quickly to develop and purchase smaller UAVs. Interestingly, the air force has not tried to stop the proliferation of UAVs in the army. According to a fifty year old agreement ("the treaty of Key West"), the army agreed to stick with helicopters and leave all fixed wing aircraft to the air force. There have been some exemptions, but generally, the air force has protested loudly whenever the army tried to buy and use fixed wing aircraft. Apparently the army made it clear that they considered unmanned aircraft exempt from this agreement and would go to war over it if the air force tried to force the issue. So now the pressure is on the air force to make their aircraft more useful when the army has UAV alternatives. The E-8C, because it has been equipped with a lot of commercial, and thus more easily modified, telecommunications equipment. Thus implementing DRIER only took two months, including testing.

 


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