Archive for the 'Technology' Category



Kelly Johnson, the SR-71 Blackbird, and Skunk Works. The genius that changed aviation.

BY PGF
1 week, 3 days ago

Pictured: F-104 Starfighter

Due to Johnson designing the F-104 to be better than any other aircraft, many other countries were interested in the F-104. At one point in time, the F-104 was operated by 15 different militaries.

This has always been one of my favorite aircraft. As a boy, I had a die-cast F-104 and spent seemingly endless hours destroying everything in its path. Here’s an interesting background on his work.

The Man Behind Lockheed Skunk Works

SR-71 Blackbird

Following the introduction of the U-2, both the USAF and CIA loved the aircraft. However, the 1960 U-2 incident [ Wiki ] highlighted to the USAF and CIA that the U-2 wasn’t invincible and needed something to prevent that.

Arming U-2s wasn’t an option- this would decrease the service ceiling of the U-2 and make it easier for Soviet radars to detect. As such, the CIA contracted Lockheed to develop a new, undetectable spy plane.

Lockheed contracted Johnson, then head of Lockheed Skunk Works, to develop the U-2s replacement. Johnson soon realized that arming the aircraft was nearly impossible, so chose another route: speed.

Johnson and his team developed the A-12 for the CIA. During the 1964 Presidential Election, Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson were having a televised debate.

Here, Goldwater accused Lyndon Johnson of allowing the Soviets to out compete the US. As such, LBJ decided to reveal the A-12 program and the fact that the USAF was implementing a variant of the A-12, called the SR-71.

Kelly Johnson had designed the fly higher than the U-2, at 85,000 ft (26,000 m). Instead of giving the SR-71 weapons, Johnson designed the SR-71 to travel at Mach 3.32, making it the fastest aircraft ever.

Herschel may have posted something about Mr. Johnson previously, but if you haven’t seen it, watch the Video Documentary of his career. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Researchers Say It’ll Be Impossible to Control a Super-Intelligent AI

BY PGF
2 weeks, 4 days ago

The reason the large tech companies wanted all of the social media data and search history algorithms was to build the AI. For over a decade, the tech gurus in the late 80s and 90s lamented how to build it. They knew it could be done; they just weren’t sure how. Then somebody said; just get the data; it’ll build itself from there. That was a simple and brilliant strategy.

In order to work, the machine would need loads of data about everything in the world. A computer has no soul; it will never actually be sentient. However, it can have so much data that it may “out-think” humans, appearing to have awareness. And its decision tree will be so thoroughly complex with innumerable options while being immensely quick that it will appear to make independent decisions. Like a master chess player, it will know the answer regardless of your next move. And since it “thinks” faster than anybody and has more data to act upon than anybody, it is, for all intents and purposes, the smartest evil super-genius ever.

We don’t use the word evil lightly. All the depictions of an AI turning evil are not in error. Every man knows he’s a sinner, deep in the depths of his own heart where he won’t discuss it and dares not to tread too often; we all know what we are, wicked. Here is the scary part: everything feeding the AI system is evil because you are feeding it the data. The system will appear to run after the image of its maker, fallen man.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” – Romans 3:10

You are evil, totally depraved, a sinner. All men are. In fact, you’re so far gone that you’re probably telling yourself right now, “no, I’m ok, I’m not that bad.” You operate within your own capacity, in a fallen state of sin. And you, along with 7 billion others just like you, wholly wicked and full of wretchedness, every last one, are programming the AI.

Source:

The idea of artificial intelligence overthrowing humankind has been talked about for decades, and in 2021, scientists delivered their verdict on whether we’d be able to control a high-level computer super-intelligence. The answer? Almost definitely not.

The catch is that controlling a super-intelligence far beyond human comprehension would require a simulation of that super-intelligence which we can analyze (and control). But if we’re unable to comprehend it, it’s impossible to create such a simulation.

Rules such as ’cause no harm to humans’ can’t be set if we don’t understand the kind of scenarios that an AI is going to come up with, suggest the authors of the new paper. Once a computer system is working on a level above the scope of our programmers, we can no longer set limits.

“A super-intelligence poses a fundamentally different problem than those typically studied under the banner of ‘robot ethics’,” wrote the researchers.

“This is because a superintelligence is multi-faceted, and therefore potentially capable of mobilizing a diversity of resources in order to achieve objectives that are potentially incomprehensible to humans, let alone controllable.”

This article seems to be written with the intent to make you a little dumber and a lot more helpless. It could have been a very good article. Worrying that the machine will “think” of something we didn’t is self-center beyond belief; it’s even egotistical to care about such a thing. I’m not worried at all about the computer coming up with some unforeseen thing. I’d be much more worried about it perfectly emulating all that it’s learned from its input subjects.

H/T Instapundit

The Best Headlamps for Hunting of 2022

BY Herschel Smith
4 months, 3 weeks ago

At Outdoor Life.

They list some lights that throw a lot of lumens, but that isn’t everything, and it’s not most important for me.

For example, I refuse to have a headlamp that isn’t “hybrid.”  For example, this model they review is hybrid and can use both a rechargeable battery pack or 3AAA batteries.

I also require the red light for early morning walks to the tree stand.

If readers have any additions, please recommend your favorite in the comments.

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note: Confined Spaces

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 6 months ago

Small Wars Journal:

Tunnels are dark and often wet, hot, and humid. They can contain tight spaces, low overhead clearances, and present a range of explosive and toxic environmental challenges. All of these impediments are enhanced by poor visibility, darkness, impeded sight lines, and amplified noise (echoes) facilitating sensory decrements that inhibit maneuver, engagement, and situational awareness. Tunnels also degrade intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance complicating tactical and operational decision-making. In addition to tactical challenges found in all confined space operations, illicit taps bring an additional explosion hazard both within the tunnel and in proximate inhabited spaces.

It reminds me of the tunnel in Sicario, except not as well-constructed.

I think I’ve said this before, but this poses not just a tactical challenge to anyone, regardless of persuasion, but a challenge to life as well.

This is a confined space.  It has the following hazards (not an all-inclusive list): civil engineering (collapse of roofing or siding), access to breathable oxygen, lighting, noise, concentration of various bacteriological hazards (such as legionella), temperature, humidity, submergence during rain from flash flooding, concentration of explosive gases, concentration of explosive dusts, etc., etc.

Stay out of confined spaces.  They mean death to you.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t go spelunking.

Divining Rod Bomb Detectors

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 11 months ago

From The New York Times:

Despite major bombings that have rattled the nation, and fears of rising violence as American troops withdraw, Iraq’s security forces have been relying on a device to detect bombs and weapons that the United States military and technical experts say is useless.

The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.

Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles …

… recent bombings of government buildings here have underscored how precarious Iraq remains, especially with the coming parliamentary elections and the violence expected to accompany them.

The suicide bombers who managed to get two tons of explosives into downtown Baghdad on Oct. 25, killing 155 people and destroying three ministries, had to pass at least one checkpoint where the ADE 651 is typically deployed, judging from surveillance videos released by Baghdad’s provincial governor. The American military does not use the devices. “I don’t believe there’s a magic wand that can detect explosives,” said Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., who oversees Iraqi police training for the American military. “If there was, we would all be using it. I have no confidence that these work.”

The Iraqis, however, believe passionately in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives.

Dale Murray, head of the National Explosive Engineering Sciences Security Center at Sandia Labs, which does testing for the Department of Defense, said the center had “tested several devices in this category, and none have ever performed better than random chance.”

The Justice Department has warned against buying a variety of products that claim to detect explosives at a distance with a portable device. Normal remote explosives detection machinery, often employed in airports, weighs tons and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. The ADE 651’s clients are mostly in developing countries; no major country’s military or police force is a customer, according to the manufacturer.

“I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them,” General Jabiri said. “I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.”

Aqeel al-Turaihi, the inspector general for the Ministry of the Interior, reported that the ministry bought 800 of the devices from a company called ATSC (UK) Ltd. for $32 million in 2008, and an unspecified larger quantity for $53 million. Mr. Turaihi said Iraqi officials paid up to $60,000 apiece, when the wands could be purchased for as little as $18,500. He said he had begun an investigation into the no-bid contracts with ATSC.

Jim McCormick, the head of ATSC, based in London, did not return calls for comment.

The Baghdad Operations Command announced Tuesday that it had purchased an additional 100 detection devices, but General Rowe said five to eight bomb-sniffing dogs could be purchased for $60,000, with provable results.

Checking cars with dogs, however, is a slow process, whereas the wands take only a few seconds per vehicle. “Can you imagine dogs at all 400 checkpoints in Baghdad?” General Jabiri said. “The city would be a zoo.”

Speed is not the only issue. Colonel Bidlack said, “When they say they are selling you something that will save your son or daughter on a patrol, they’ve crossed an insupportable line into moral depravity.”

Last year, the James Randi Educational Foundation, an organization seeking to debunk claims of the paranormal, publicly offered ATSC $1 million if it could pass a scientific test proving that the device could detect explosives. Mr. Randi said no one from the company had taken up the offer.

ATSC’s promotional material claims that its device can find guns, ammunition, drugs, truffles, human bodies and even contraband ivory at distances up to a kilometer, underground, through walls, underwater or even from airplanes three miles high. The device works on “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction,” ATSC says.

To detect materials, the operator puts an array of plastic-coated cardboard cards with bar codes into a holder connected to the wand by a cable. “It would be laughable,” Colonel Bidlack said, “except someone down the street from you is counting on this to keep bombs off the streets.”

Proponents of the wand often argue that errors stem from the human operator, who they say must be rested, with a steady pulse and body temperature, before using the device.

Then the operator must walk in place a few moments to “charge” the device, since it has no battery or other power source, and walk with the wand at right angles to the body. If there are explosives or drugs to the operator’s left, the wand is supposed to swivel to the operator’s left and point at them.

If, as often happens, no explosives or weapons are found, the police may blame a false positive on other things found in the car, like perfume, air fresheners or gold fillings in the driver’s teeth.

On Tuesday, a guard and a driver for The New York Times, both licensed to carry firearms, drove through nine police checkpoints that were using the device. None of the checkpoint guards detected the two AK-47 rifles and ammunition inside the vehicle.

During an interview on Tuesday, General Jabiri challenged a Times reporter to test the ADE 651, placing a grenade and a machine pistol in plain view in his office. Despite two attempts, the wand did not detect the weapons when used by the reporter but did so each time it was used by a policeman.

“You need more training,” the general said.

Well, it’s sad, really, but Iraq has something called the University of Baghdad, which has a College of Engineering.  More than likely, no one asked them what they think about this magic IED divining rod, and Iraq has long ago reached the point where the U.S. must let them go their own way.  But the worst part of this is the failure to spend the money on bomb sniffing dogs, some of which have been deployed to Afghanistan with the Marines.  In the not too distant future, nanotechnology might be able to fill the gap.

Military Transport by Rocketship

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

Yes, you heard right. The title is correct.

In the future, U.S. troops could be on the ground in hotspots anywhere on the globe in only two hours. This may sound like science fiction, but it is exactly what a group of civilians and military officials met to talk about at a two-day conference.

The meeting’s purpose was to plan the development of the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) program. USA Today reports that the invitation to the conference called the idea a “potential revolutionary step in getting combat power to any point in the world in a timeframe unachievable today.”

The biggest challenge for the SUSTAIN program is certainly the technology. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Brown, a spokesman for the space office said that the next step in the plan is addressing technological challenges and seeking military input.

The goal of the program is to be able to insert a team of 13 soldiers anywhere on the globe in two hours. John Pike, a military analyst told USA Today, “This isn’t even science fiction. It’s fantasy.” Pike says that the concept defies physics and the reality of what a small number of lightly armed troops could accomplish.

Burt Rutan, the rocket pioneer who won the X Prize in 2004 for building a private spacecraft capable of flying into space says that the plan is technologically possible. Rutan wrote in an email to USA Today, “This has never been done. However, it is feasible. It would be a relatively expensive way to get the troops on the ground, but it could be done.”

Some things leaves one speechless. Well, not quite. Absurd. “Relatively expensive?” Try ridiculously expensive for no purpose (13 Soldiers can accomplish nothing useful). John Pike, who is smart and whom The Captain’s Journal likes, is correct. This is nothing but fantasy, but the sad part is that dollars are being wasted on even contemplating such a thing.

The litany of potential problems are too long to be enumerated (e.g., If ingress by rocketship, by what means egress? What kind of emergency could possibly warrant the deployment of troops within two hours, but only 13 troops in number? Who is going to maintain this rocketship launch capable 24 hours per day, 365 days per year? Etc.) Want “ready reserve?” That’s what Marine Expeditionary Units are for. Rather than wasting dollars on rocketships, spend them on increasing the size and deployment of Marines in ready reserve.

Fighting a Technologically Advanced Insurgency

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

There are many differences between insurgencies in the twenty first century and those of 100, 50, 30 or even 10 years ago.  In addition to the transnational nature of the fighters, the easy and quick access to technologically advanced and standoff weapons introduces elements that makes previous centuries of counterinsurgency experience almost meaningless.  Examples of such elements are cell phones, IEDs and in particular, EFPs.  Our quarter century old enemy Iran is busy in Afghanistan as they were (and still are) in Iraq.

The comments by the commander, who would not be named but operates in the south east of the country where there has been a surge in Taliban attacks, were a rare admission of co-operation between elements within the Iranian regime and forces fighting British and American troops in Afghanistan.

“There’s a kind of landmine called a Dragon. Iran’s sending it,” he said. “It’s directional and it causes heavy casualties.

“We’re ambushing the Americans and planting roadside bombs. We never let them relax.”

The commander, a veteran of 30 years who started fighting when the Soviet Union was occupying Afghanistan, said the Dragon had revolutionised the Taliban’s ability to target Nato soldiers deployed in his area.

“If you lay an ordinary mine, it will only cause minor damage to Humvees or one of their big tanks. But if you lay a Dragon, it will destroy it completely,” he said.

A “Dragon” is the local nickname for a type of weapon known internationally as an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) or “shaped charge” and has been used with devastating effect in Iraq by Iranian-backed groups. It is shaped so that all the explosive force is concentrated in one direction – the target – rather than blasting in all directions and weakening its impact.

A former mujahideen fighter who knows the Afghan arms market well and who asked to be known as Shahir said the Dragon mines came directly from Iran.

Iran has denied these allegations, but Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador in Kabul, said the British Army, which is deployed in south-western Afghanistan, had intercepted consignments of weapons which they believe were “donated by a group within the Iranian state”.

The only other possible source, the arms expert said, would be Pakistan’s Tribal Areas where a relatively sophisticated arms industry has grown up. “Until now,” he said, “no-one in the Tribal Areas has been able to copy these mines. Both the metal and the explosives are different, very high quality and very effective, obviously not Chinese or Pakistani.”

He said there were two routes for Iranian weaponry getting to the Taliban. “There are people inside the state in Iran who donate weapons. There are also Iranian businessmen who sell them.”

The Taliban are also employing technologically advanced communications in order to avoid electronic interdiction and eavesdropping.

Taliban fighters targeting British troops in Afghanistan are using Skype voice-over-IP phones to evade detection.

Security sources have told the Evening Standard that unlike traditional mobile calls, which can be monitored by RAF Nimrod spy planes, Skype calls are heavily encrypted.

Taliban leaders had previously been known to use satellite phones, which could be tracked and located by western forces.

The British and American governments are said to be investing resources to crack voice-over-IP (VoIP) codes.

“The trouble with this technology is that it is easily available but devilishly hard to crack,” a security source told the Standard. “The technology can now be accessed on mobile internet devices and the country’s mobile phone network is expanding rapidly.”

Skype is owned by eBay and has around 300m user accounts worldwide.

Sir David Pepper, head of government listening centre GCHQ, has previously complained that internet calls are “seriously undermining” his organisation’s ability to intercept communications.

There are suggestions as to what might be effective means to stop this use of Skype.

Simple – move to compressed data on their system.

Compressed Skype calls make life a lot easier for pattern recognition software to detect key words in the digital data stream, simply because the $trings of data are shorter.

There’s been a few reports on the subject over the last few years, but Skype has avoided making any comment for fear of upsetting its users.

Now that the issue is coming into the open, however, I strongly suspect Skype won’t have much choice.

Unless, of course, it wants to see ISPs in dodgy areas of the world like Afghanistan block the use of Skype on their Internet connections, so depriving the Net telephony company of valuable call revenue…

Maybe it’s this simple – and maybe not.  Both the U.S. DoD and the British MoD should invest as necessary to stay ahead in technology.  But we must not miss the the point concerning technology.  Playing the game of one-step-ahead is a deadly and costly way to run a campaign.

The solution to the problem of Taliban technology is to conduct intelligence driven raids against the Taliban who perpetrate the use of such technology.  Rather than the so-called high value targets with recognizable names, the real high value targets are the Taliban perpetrators, the fighters, technicians and practitioners.

 But in order to conduct intelligence driven raids against such people, we first have to have intelligence.  In order to gain the proper intelligence, the population must have security.  Maj. Gen. Jeffery J. Schloesser has said that there are as many as 11,000 insurgents operating in the Eastern part of Afghanistan.  This size insurgency requires a larger projection of power by infantry to ensure the progress of the counterinsurgency campaign.  Killing and capturing Taliban will end the threat posed by EFPs and Skype.

Army (Exoskeleton) or Marines (V-22): Who Wins?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 4 months ago

The Captain’s Journal proudly stirs the pot and agitates yet another interservice kerfuffle over money – or rather, how it is spent.

We have a category for the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, and long ago strongly suspected that it would be an outstanding success in its debut deployment in Iraq.  It has been, but a recent analysis at the National Journal entitled Future Corps (an analysis which itself it worth protracted study time) points to larger problems with the aging Marine air fleet and the role of the V-22.

At the end of April, a squadron of the Marine Corps’s new V-22 Ospreys returned from the aircraft’s first overseas deployment, a seven-month tour in Iraq. The Corps trotted out pilots and ground crews to talk up the $67 million machine, a hybrid of helicopter and propeller plane whose revolutionary tilt-rotor technology took 25 years to develop and claimed 30 lives in crashes along the way.

Largely overlooked in the coverage and the controversy over the V-22 itself, however, is the fact that the aircraft was never meant to stand, or to fight, alone. The Osprey is simply the single most expensive element of an ambitious plan to re-equip the Marine Corps to execute a new kind of sea-based blitzkrieg.

Marine officers began to develop the concept, often called “operational maneuver from the sea,” a quarter-century ago at the height of the Cold War, when the rise of advanced anti-ship missiles was already threatening any fleet massed for a conventional, large-scale landing in the style of Iwo Jima. Today, the V-22 and key technologies like it are finally entering service in a world radically different from the one in which they were conceived–a world in which some of the weapons that the Soviets developed 25 years ago are now in the hands of guerrillas and terrorists in developing countries.

For the Marine Corps, looking forward to a large-scale pullback from Iraq even as it takes on a new mission in Afghanistan, the vision is not merely about new technology. It is about returning to the Corps’s historic role as a shipborne rapid-reaction force after five years of grueling ground warfare alongside the Army.

“We’re not a second land army,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Benes, the director of expeditionary warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations’ staff. “We can always be used to complement the [Army’s] mission on the ground, and we don’t shy away from a fight,” he emphasized. “But our real traditional role of being a naval force is what we want to get back to.”

To carry out this old role in a new way with new equipment, however, will be expensive. Like the Army, the Marine Corps has worn out in Iraq much of its inventory of weapons, aircraft, and vehicles, most of which were bought during the Reagan-era buildup. Unlike the Army, which has packaged its main modernization programs into a single, high-profile, hard-to-explain and heavily criticized Future Combat System, Marine modernization is scattered across a half-dozen programs, some small enough to fly below most media and congressional radars. What’s more, because the future Marine force will be carried into battle on Navy ships built with Navy money, about a sixth of the total cost to realize the Corps’s vision will not be counted in the Corps’s budget …

“There were a lot of arguments for and against the V-22,” said Robert Work, a retired Marine colonel who is an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Five years ago, I was not a fan. But the bottom line is, now there really is no other option. The war has essentially worn out the Marine Corps helicopter fleet. The V-22 is the answer we’re going to make work” …

The Osprey’s speed and range are arguably overkill for Iraq, where most missions are short-range hops in and out of the many U.S. bases. Its aptitude for altitude, however, has already proven useful: Insurgents have shot down conventional U.S. helicopters with machine guns, but the V-22 can climb to 13,000 feet, too high to hit with small-arms fire. Insurgents have occasionally used shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which can reach higher targets, but flying higher than conventional helicopters gives Osprey pilots more reaction time to drop flares and evade.

A rumored deployment of V-22s to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are spread thin over vast distances and at high altitudes, should be a better test of the V-22’s performance. But where the Osprey really shines is at even longer ranges. When the marines first deployed from their ships to Afghanistan in 2001, for example, they had to move in laborious stages from the Indian Ocean with the help of landing areas in Pakistan. With the V-22, the same force could have flown over Pakistani territory and hit the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in two hours.

And for the Army future combat system?  It includes things like the exoskeleton.

A complex interconnected array of computers, motors, servos, electronic feedback loops, load bearing members and batteries which deplete far too quickly, the exoskeleton is supposed to assist the Soldier in the field by amplifying human movements.

The Marines say “uh, huh.”  Batteries which wear out, a system that is heavy and bulky and uncomfortable, weeks or even months of training required to use it, the inability to perform mounted patrols, untold and yet to be determined equipment interference problems – where is the body armor, hydration system, backpack, weapon and ammunition going to go – and the likelihood that upon (the highly probable) malfunction it will be jettisoned in the field, and the Marines will probably respond: “The V-22 flies.  You might not like what we spent to get it there, but at least we didn’t throw money after that monstrosity.  Are you proud of yourselves?”

Why not spend the money on technology for lighter ballistic (SAPI) plates to decrease battlespace weight for the U.S. warrior?  We have previously said that this needs to be done.  Is anyone listening?

The Taliban and Their Telephones

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

Several days ago I noted that the Taliban were worried about the technological advantages the U.S. could leverage against them, but at the time I thought, “don’t they understand – surely they won’t carry through with this ridiculous threat?”

The Taliban threatened Monday to attack mobile phone facilities in Afghanistan, alleging that the technology was being used at night to pin-point the Islamic rebels’ hideouts.

Zabihullah Mujahed, a rebel spokesman, said that several phone companies had been given three days to respond to militants’ demands that they cut night time operations or face attacks, notably on antennas erected across the country.

“The invading forces are using mobile phones for military purposes,” Mujahed told AFP, referring to about 60,000 foreign personnel deployed in Afghanistan to hunt down Taliban militants who are waging a deadly insurgency.

“Usually during the nights the mobile phones are being used to spy on the Taliban to track down their footpaths. Here we ask the (mobile) companies to halt their operations from five o’clock in the evening to seven in the morning,” he said.

With 700 million dollars of investment, the burgeoning communications industry is one of the biggest development projects in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

According to the country’s telecommunications ministry, over five million Afghans are currently using mobile phones, provided by five mainly foreign companies.

“The Taliban themselves are using mobile phone for communications,” he said.

No phone company can stay in business by intentionally shutting down their service, so it was an impossible set of conditions to meet.  Nevertheless, the Taliban have carried through with their threat.

Taliban militants blew up a telecommunications tower Friday in southern Afghanistan following a warning to phone companies to shut down the towers at night or face attack.

The militants fear U.S. and other foreign troops are using mobile phone signals to track insurgents and launch attacks against them. A Taliban spokesman on Monday said militants would blow up towers across Afghanistan if the companies did not switch off their signals overnight.

Insurgents made good on that threat Friday, destroying a tower along the main highway in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, said Niaz Mohammad Serhadi, the top district official.

Phone companies moved into remote areas of Afghanistan after talks with tribal elders, who asked for the towers to be built, said Abdul Hadi Hadi, spokesman for the Telecommunications Ministry.

“When they destroy any tower, it shows direct enmity to the people of that area. I don’t think the destruction of the towers has any direct effect on the government. It is the people who suffer,” he said.

Thousands of customers will be affected by the tower attack, Serhadi said. Police have increased security around other phone towers, he said.

Communications experts say the U.S. military has the ability, using satellites and other means, to pick up cell phone signals without the phone company’s help. Cell phones periodically send signals to the network even when they are not making calls.

The frequent cell phone pings to locate towers are well known, but this leads to the inevitable question, “why wouldn’t they just turn their cell phones off?”

Use of the mobile networks for intelligence is an obvious step which is well-nigh certain to have been taken, just as governments have done in every country. And it’s well known that masts can be used to locate a phone which is powered up.

What’s less clear is why the Taliban have chosen to demand a shutdown of mast signals at night. Even the most paranoid phone-security advisers would normally suggest taking the battery out of one’s phone, rather than menacing local cell operators unless they went off the air. (The idea of removing the battery is to guard against someone having modified the phone to switch itself on without the owner’s knowledge.)

It could be that the Taliban want to operate their own networks, of course. Micro/pico/femtocell equipment is widely available, and there’s said to be a strong tradition in wild and woolly rural Afghanistan of unregulated, private wireless comms. It might be that guerrilla commanders merely want to clear other operators off the spectrum so that they can use it themselves.

Even so, Western military or spook electronic-intelligence units will still be able to intercept, identify, locate and track active mobile phones in an area of interest, even if they are communicating (or meant to be communicating) only with Taliban-controlled cells. The reported threats still don’t make a huge amount of sense in terms of the reasons given.

Another possibility is that the Taliban simply want to deny ordinary Afghans phone service at night, perhaps to stop people reporting on militia movements and/or prevent them phoning for help if attacked. Or it might be that the Taliban – the Taliban press office, anyway – simply isn’t up on the technical issues.

The later seems most likely.  If it weren’t for the disruption in phone coverage and the potential for harm to humans, the thought of the Taliban wasting ordnance on cell phone towers when they could simply power down their phones at night would bring a smile to my face.  In addition to creating a disruption in their own cell phone service, this version of “winning hearts and minds” is sure to be a bomb – so to speak.

Pentagon Supercomputer Powers IED-Hunting

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 10 months ago

Popular Mechanics tells us about a Pentagon program that couples advanced computer technology with UAVs to aid in IED-hunting.  The program relies on physical terrain mapping by the use of UAVs along with a Cray supercomputer to utilize the information gleaned from the survey data.  These two things, when combined with “learning” algorithms (i.e., artificial intelligence), are intended to produce knowledge of the battle space for the warrior thousands of miles away.

Half a world away from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, nestled near the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, a 34-year-old electrical engineer is wielding one of the planet’s most powerful computers to lend a virtual helping hand to American soldiers. Joshua Fairley’s detailed 3D modeling of warzone scenes, based at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Miss., has vastly improved the effectiveness of airborne sensors in scoping out deadly ground-based threats.Deployed in space or on aircraft—often in UAVs—electro-optical and infrared sensors scan urban and rural terrain for explosive devices. Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) algorithms then digitally decipher the fuzzy images, picking out the mines from the manholes and the bombs from the bushes. At least that’s the hope, with visual clutter triggering regular false alarms. One very time-consuming and expensive way to improve the sensors would be to fly the systems repeatedly, performing case study after case study. Instead, Fairley and his team have used the ERDC’s Cray XT3, the Defense Department’s second most powerful supercomputer, capable of 40 trillion computations per second, to simulate landscapes from combat and do the case studies in a lab on American soil.What makes the work stand out is the level of detail they are achieving: By taking into account soil types, plant distribution, species of plants and even the distinct characteristics of those species, Fairley says his team has processed data “literally down to the weeds.” Soon, the Army Corps researchers hope to model beneath the ground. Why? “Each plant takes up a certain amount of moisture through its roots,” explains Fairley, who once designed sensors for Lockheed Martin. “That moisture could affect localized temperature, which affects the ability to detect a threat.” Fairley then uses the sensors to scan these “synthetic images” for potential hazards, taking note of how well the sensors function under certain weather conditions, at certain times of year and even different times of day. That way he can write complex new algorithms to “teach” the sensors, some of which take thermal readings, to distinguish harmless objects from threats. In one case study, he cut the false alarm rate by 75 percent. Results like that, he says, “will benefit the well-being and health of our warfighters, which is a reason why I get up in morning and come to work.”

While the best intelligence is still human, in a campaign that has seen its fair share of unpreparedness for the enemy tactics, this is welcome advancement.  The technology is basically one of finding what is out of place – the old game of “what doesn’t belong in this picture?”  As long as the UAV coverage is sufficient, the computing should be able to cope.  Still … Crays?  I thought that the Cray had disappeared with the dinosaur?  I thought most supercomputing was done now with multiple RISC processors communicating via message passing (MPI), similar to the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Blue Mountain computer?

As it turns out, Cray has apparently kept up with technology, or so they say, and the “vector processor of the Cray XT5h system has unique global addressing capabilities programmable by Co-Array Fortran and Unified Parallel C (UPC), which can solve problems beyond the capabilities of MPI.”

It would have been nice if Popular Mechanics had followed this story up with a discussion on the type of computer being used and why the choice had been made.  In any case, this is good leveraging of our technological advantage to aid in the campaign in Iraq, even if the timing is later than desirable.  A followup article should be issued in the future to report on the effectiveness of this program.  Theory is good, but results are proof of principle.


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