Darpa Preps for "Baghdad 2015"

The current TomDispatch has a great round-up of Darpa's research into the future of urban warfare. But man, do you have to put up with a lot to get to the good stuff.soldier_overlook.jpgThe article's main thrust is that the Pentagon is readying itself for a "low-intensity world war of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor." There's an "assumed need to be in the urban Iraqs of the future, [so] the question for the U.S. military becomes a practical one: How to deal with these uppity children of the third world."Yeah, I'm rolling my eyes, too. Like the failed-state jihadists of the world will just go about minding their own business... if the U.S. just stays out their slums. Sure. Worked like a charm, before 9/11.Besides, the U.S. has been fighting in cities since... well, since before there was a U.S. (George Washington tangled with the Red Coats in New York City, for example.) And we've never been all that good at it. The fact is, American armed forces have almost always preferred a stand-up fight -- an open war -- to some close-quarters, urban combat. That's what are training is oriented around. That's what our gear is made for. But the guys plotting to hurt us and our allies are in cities. So it's into urban canyons our military must go.The article winces about American military talk of prepping for "Baghdad 2015" and urban fights of the issue fights. "Today, it's Baghdad; tomorrow...it could be Accra, Bogota, Dhaka, Karachi, Kinshasa, Lagos, Mogadishu or even a perennial favorite, Port au Prince." But given how badly "Baghdad 2007" is going, doesn't the Pentagon -- and especially, its research arms -- owe it to the rest of us to get better at those kinds of conflicts? Especially when Baghdad is only one in a long list of urban operations (Mogadishu, Srebrenica, Kabul) the U.S. has found itself in over the last few decades? Wouldn't anything less would be... well, a dereliction of duty?Anyway. After several more paragraphs, we get to the meat of the story, on "the wide range of efforts to visualize, map out, and spy on the global mega-favelas that the U.S. has, until now, largely scorned and neglected." Most of these programs won't be new to close readers of Defense Tech. But it's interesting, and helpful, to see 'em all in one place. Items include...

VisiBuilding: This is a program aimed at addressing "a pressing need in urban warfare: seeing inside buildings" by developing technology that will allow U.S. forces to "determine building layouts, find anomalous quantities of materials," and "locate people within the building..."UrbanScape: This program aims "to make the foreign city as familiar as the soldier's backyard'" by providing "the warfighters patrolling an urban environment with an up-to-date, high resolution model of the urban terrain that can be viewed, manipulated and analyzed."Urban Hopping Robots... a semi-autonomous hybrid hopping/articulated wheeled robotic platform [like this one, maybe -- ed.] that could adapt to the urban environment... and provide the delivery of small payloads to any point of the urban jungle while remaining lightweight, small to minimize the burden on the soldier.Close Combat Lethal Recon This deadly, loitering explosive expressively for use in urban landscapes will expand a soldier's killing zone by reaching "over and around buildings, onto rooftops, and into open building portals." Think of it as a smart grenade or, according to DARPA Director Tether... "a small mortar round with a grenade-size explosive in it. A fiber-optic line unreels from its back end and provides the data link that allows the soldier to see the video from the munition's camera and to fly it into the target."
If it works -- and that's always a big if, when you're talking about a Darpa project -- that does sound like a nasty weapon. Not just in a city. But in any environment.FWIW, The story leaves of of its list two of the creepiest Darpa programs geared towards urban fights. "Combat Zones That See" tries to strap cheap cameras together, giving soldiers watch over an entire city at once; the "Integrated Sensor is Structure" program aims to do the same thing -- with a giant, all-seeing blimp. And then there's Darpa's next robotic road race. It's through... a city! (Cue scary music.)
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