Intelligence: March 25, 2004

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After three years of development, the "recon round" is now under consideration by the army and marines for adoption as a reconnaissance tool. The navy put up $1.7 million for researchers at Georgia Tech to develop an 81mm mortar round that could carry a video camera and take pictures as the shell floated to the ground via a parachute, and transmit those pictures to a nearby soldiers laptop computer. The recon round takes over a hundred pictures as it floats to ground from about 2,000 feet, and transmits them to the nearby American troops at the rate of one megabyte of data a second. The recon round used off-the-shelf components, which will keep its price down to about $700 a round if it is produced in large quantities (at least a few thousand.) The recon round is in competition with smaller UAVs as a front line reconnaissance tool. Some of these unmanned aircraft weigh less than five pounds. But the lightweight UAVs have a lot of problems with wind, and become impossible to control in anything beyond a light breeze. This is not a problem with the recon round. The developers of the recon round say they could use the same technology in a 40mm grenade, and every infantry squad has at least one soldier equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher. The developers, and army officers who supported the project, feel the recon round could be useful right now in Iraq, providing instant information on what's going on over the hill, or inside the next village (including who is on the roofs.) Many hummers are equipped to have a laptop computer operating next to the driver, as there are already several military communications systems that need a laptop to display information all the time. The recon round just becomes another use for the laptop. For light infantry, the 40mm recon round could be used with a PDA equipped with the wireless gear needed to capture the photos. Thus a PDA and a few 40mm grenades does the same job as a lightweight UAV, and doesn't have to worry about the wind. 

 


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