Electronic Weapons: Helping You Think In 3-D


October 27, 2010: An Israeli firm has introduced a new mission planning system (Lt.Gen Computer) that adds photo analysis tools that enable 2-D photos to be quickly transformed into 3-D models of the battlefield. Or any terrain, for that matter, making the system useful for land management, police and municipal planners. But Lt.Gen Computer is pitched at ground combat units. Lt.Gen Computer helps troops with sorting out what the easiest routes (traversability) are and what you can see from any point in an area (for line-of-sight to potential targets.)

These capabilities are what the troops have long been asking for. The troops also want mission planning software that is easy to use, does what needs to be done, and fits on a laptop computer. The latest ones combine digital maps and 3-D gaming technology with military procedures and equipment specifications to produce  programs that enable commanders, and troops, to quickly put together a simulation of a mission. This is what mission planning is all about. Lt.Gen Computer is one of the latest mission planning systems, something that takes a lot of the risk out of combat by enabling the troops to get a better look at the battlefield, and try out moves before their do it under enemy fire.

There's a huge demand for this sort of thing. For the last decade troops were already putting together their own mission planning software. This led the U.S. Army, two years ago, to create their own version of "Google Earth" for combat. This computer application isn't from Google, it just looks like Google Earth. The troops call this mapping software TIGR (Tactical Ground Reporting System). Its inspiration wasn't Google Earth, but mission planning software the U.S. Air Force and Navy have been using for decades.

The most recent versions of the mission planning stuff looks like a commercial (as in from a software store) flight simulator, but with a lot more information displayed. Combat pilots have long used systems like this, which have been on computers for over twenty years, to plan their missions. Before that, it was done manually, on paper maps. Mission planning was not just about who would be where, when and doing what, but also where the enemy defenses were, and the lay of the land. That's because the best approach, to get under the radar, is on the deck. For that, you have to know where the hills and valleys are.

For years, army and marine infantry officers knew of these mission planners, and suggested to their bosses that similar tools be developed for the troops. Patrols, tactical movements and all manner of combat missions could be more quickly, and effectively, planned with mission planner support. Civilian wargame and simulation experts were also eager to do it, and knew, especially in the last five years, that the technology was there. The Department of Defense had already created a huge digital database of maps, and laptop computers were powerful enough to handle the graphics and data storage. The military had Internet type access in the combat zone. Over the last few years, all this agitation resulted in a growing number of infantry mission planning systems showing up.

Now the infantry have better mission planning tools, and these are even more useful than the one the pilots use, at least in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's because the ground troops are doing most of the fighting. The infantry run about ten times as many patrols and other combat missions, than do the aviators. And the ground troops are far more likely to get shot at. Just as the pilots discovered decades ago, mission planning tools and combat simulators can be a lifesaver.





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