Back in the summer of 2003, I wrote a little story for the Village Voice on the Pentagon's plan to track everything that moves in a city. Since then, there hasn't been much word from the Defense Department about "Combat Zones that See," or CTS. A planned demonstration at Ft. Belvoir never came about or was kept very quiet. Last year, Congress moved to yank funds from the program's budget.But now, CTS may be on the way back, if Tony Tether -- the head of Defense Department far-out research arm Darpa -- has his way. The agency's proposed 2006 budget calls for $20 million over three years for CTS. It's part of an expanded, $340 million push by Darpa to develop technologies for urban battles (see Falluja, Najaf, etc.)Here's what Tether told the Senate Armed Services committee last week about CTS:
We need a network, or web, of sensors to better map a city and the activities in it, including inside buildings, to sort adversaries and their equipment from civilians and their equipment, including in crowds, and to spot snipers, suicide bombers, or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). We need to watch a great variety of things, activities, and people over a wide area and have great resolution available when we need it. And this is not just a matter of more and better sensors, but just as important, the systems needed to make actionable intelligence out of all the data. Closely related to this are tagging, tracking, and locating (TT&L) systems that help us watch and track a particular person or object of interest. These systems will also help us detect the clandestine production or possession of weapon of mass destruction in overseas urban areas. There was a recent incident in Iraq where one of our UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] spotted some insurgents firing a mortar. Then the insurgents climbed back into their car and drove away. The good news was that the UAV was able to track the car so U.S. helicopters could go after it and destroy it. The bad news was that, at one point, some of the passengers got out. Then we had to decide whether to follow those individuals or the car because we simply did not have enough coverage available. If wed had other sensors available, we would have had a better chance of getting all of those insurgents.If we could quickly track-back where a vehicle came from, it would greatly help us deal with suicide car bombers. It is difficult, if not impossible, to deter the bombers themselves, just as you cannot deter a missile that has already been launched. But, one key to deterrence that has been missing is reliable attribution, or a return address. If we knew where the car came from, using, for example, RSTA [reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition] systems that allowed us to quickly trace the car carrying the explosives back to the house or shop it came from, we could then attack that place and those people.CTS is one of a bunch of Darpa urban ops programs that skates the fine line between creepy and cool. The agency would also like $10 million to build robotic, flying spies that weight less than 10 grams and are just two inches across. The "Home Field" program would "develop networked video and LADAR [laser radar] processing technology that rapidly and reliably updates a 3D model of an urban area. [Such an] urbanscape will provide 3D situational awareness with sufficient detail and accuracy to remove the 'home field advantage' enjoyed by opponents." Meanwhile, the "Pre-Conflict Anticipation and Shaping" (PCAS) could help American counterinsurgents predict where conflicts might boil up next.
The project will combine computational social science modeling and simulation, scenario generation, evolutionary programming, planning, and multiplayer gaming. When integrated, these technologies allow combatant commanders and senior decision makers to understand and anticipate the societal/regional indicators that precipitate instability and conflict within an area of responsibility, then mitigate the impact of that instability... The goal of PCAS' more powerful societal/regional models is an integrated perspective encompassing, in a consistent way, all the dimensions of social change.