Sunday, July 27, 2003

Pentagon Wants to Make a New PAL

The Pentagon is doling out $29 million to develop software-based secretaries that understand their bosses' habits and can carry out their wishes automatically.

Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science will get $7 million to build a Perceptive Assistant that Learns, or PAL, a kind of digital flunky that can schedule meetings, maintain websites and reply to routine e-mail on its own. A total of $22 million is going to SRI International, Dejima and a coalition of other researchers for the construction of a wartime PAL.

The efforts could make leaders in the boardroom and on the battlefield more efficient, says the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa. But some defense analysts are finding it hard to see the military value in such a system.

Digital assistants have been a Darpa focus of late. The controversial, all-encompassing LifeLog project is also supposed to lead to the construction of a computerized helper. LifeLog's goal is to digitally capture and categorize every aspect of people's lives, from the TV shows they watch to the places they visit. The more information the assistant has about its boss, the argument goes, the more useful it can be.

"The idea is to develop a system that will adapt to the user, instead of the other way around," said Antoine Blondeau, president of Dejima, a software development firm in San Jose, California, that is working on the PAL effort.

According to Darpa spokeswoman Jan Walker, PAL originally was thought of as an office assistant, to set up meetings, handle correspondence and help write quarterly reports. Commercial software -- e-mail and scheduling programs, for example -- will be adapted for PAL purposes. To these will be added modules that will train the software to its user's preferences and components that will decide when to interrupt the boss with questions.

The program "must respond to specific instructions -- i.e., 'Notify me as soon as the new budget numbers arrive by e-mail' -- without the need for reprogramming," Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Scott Fahlman said in a statement.

"The point is to do all of the things a human assistant would do. If a meeting gets canceled, it would notify the appropriate people, de-schedule a (conference) room, maybe change your trip schedule. If you turned down another invitation because you were busy with this meeting, it might remind you of that," said artificial-intelligence authority -- and longtime Darpa contractor -- Doug Lenat. He's not directly associated with the PAL project, but Lenat is bidding on the LifeLog program.

To Steven Aftergood, a defense analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, the PAL program does little to help the Pentagon in its mission to combat America's adversaries.

"Darpa obviously takes a very broad view of its charter. Organizing e-mail? Allocating office space? These are to Darpa's mission what Tang is to the space program," he wrote in an e-mail.

Agency representative Walker disagreed. A headquarters commander "has a large staff that supports him -- finding information, sorting through it, collating it and advising him," she said.

Once fully implemented, a PAL could "cut down on the number of staff in a command center," she continued. "And that could make the command center smaller, more mobile and, therefore, less vulnerable." director John Pike -- a critic of many Darpa projects, including LifeLog -- sees a second possible use for the digital assistant.

The Army has a doctrine, or battlefield rules, for just about any combat situation one can imagine, Pike noted. And soldiers are supposed to follow those tenets strictly.

"But you look at all those field manuals they got, and, jeez Louise, there's no way anyone could memorize all that," he said.

"This could be the little man whispering in your ear, telling you what to do next."

The Future Of Choppers In Battle Looks Choppy
Deaths in Iraq Have Pentagon Leaning Toward More Drones

Helicopters are arguably the most dangerous pieces of hardware in the Pentagon's arsenal. During the conflict with Iraq this year, six were shot down by enemy fire and several were totaled in other incidents, killing 23 Americans and 14 British soldiers.

The toll is prompting military experts inside and outside the government to pose a provocative question with huge ramifications for future wars and the defense industry: Are helicopters' fighting days numbered?

The Army has more than 3,000 helicopters and the Marine Corps has about 700. Most of the 37 helicopter-related deaths in the Iraqi conflict occurred on transport missions, and experts say there are no viable short-term alternatives for getting troops and supplies into and out of hostile territory quickly.

But just as tanks replaced horses on the battlefield early in the 20th century, a similar moment may be arriving for attack and reconnaissance helicopters. No one is predicting the imminent elimination of attack helicopters. But there already is noteworthy movement away from these aircraft as technological advances and closer cooperation between military branches undercuts their role.

"We need to think about really laying out a long-range plan and decide what we need from helicopters," said Edward Aldridge, who recently stepped down as Pentagon acquisitions chief and now is a consultant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "There could be another way," he added, to perform some helicopter tasks as 21st century innovations improve other weapons systems and aircraft, including unmanned drones.

Computer processors, ever smaller and quicker, have made unmanned drones increasingly capable -- so much so that the Air Force armed some with precision bombs in Iraq. The Pentagon had planned to use unmanned Predator drones to back up ground troops if serious urban warfare had materialized in Baghdad, Iraq. During helicopter-grounding sandstorms, the Global Hawk and other drones used infrared radar and other sensors to peer through the maelstrom for enemy positions. On the drawing board is a new family of drones specifically for bombing runs, and unmanned reconnaissance helicopters.

Fixed-wing aircraft such as fighter jets and bombers are doing more missions in support of ground troops. These aircraft can stay above the danger zone, firing increasingly accurate missiles guided by satellites to specific target locations. In Iraq, more than half the 30,542 combat missions flown by Air Force, Navy and Marine fighter jets and bombers between March 19 and April 18 provided what is known as close-air support of ground troops -- attack helicopters' traditional forte. Pentagon officials say that is a big increase from fights in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and that it will accelerate.

For Americans, one of war's most jarring images from Iraq came on March 24. The Army sent 34 Apaches to attack Republican Guard troops on the approach to Baghdad. The helicopters came under a torrent of small-arms fire, forcing a retreat. Every helicopter was hit and 27 returned to base too damaged to fly. One was forced down, and television footage showed joyous Iraqis surrounding the aircraft and its two pilots in captivity. (They later were rescued.)

The Apache "is the most capable attack helicopter ever built, so if it can't operate safely in a place like Iraq, that has to raise questions about the whole concept of attack helicopters," says Loren Thompson, director of the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank in Washington.

In retrospect, Army commanders concede they shouldn't have sent Apaches into a densely populated area without additional air or artillery support. "We learned from our mistakes ... and we still used the Apache helicopter in a significant role during the course of the fight," Lt. Gen. William Scott Wallace said.

Certainly, helicopters have been crucial to some big victories. The first shot of the 1991 Gulf War came from an Army Apache during an attack on Iraqi radar stations that cleared the way for the air campaign. And "during the 100-hour ground war ... attack helicopters played their most decisive role ever in combat," according to, an authority on military matters.

Such successes, however, aren't enough to ease all doubts about choppers. Overall, their performance in recent fights "certainly puts attack helicopters in question," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a close adviser to Secretary Rumsfeld who sits on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board.

During the past decade, the military-helicopter industry has shrunk. Just Boeing Co., United Technologies Corp.'s Sikorsky and Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopter are in the industry -- and often in partnering roles, as Sikorsky and Boeing are on the Comanche helicopter, now in development.

Before post-Cold War downsizing, the Army had 1.2 million troops and 8,338 helicopters in 1990; today, it has 905,000 troops and 3,773 helicopters -- a 25% drop in soldiers and a 55% reduction in helicopters. Last fall, the Pentagon cut the Army's long-term plans to buy more than 1,200 Comanche helicopters -- which is intended to gather intelligence for Apache pilots -- to 650, at a cost of $38 billion.

Pentagon leaders have little sympathy. "The helicopter industry is in the toilet, and probably it ought to be," because it hasn't improved technology, says Art Cebrowski, director of the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation.

Further movement away from attack helicopters, however, won't come easily. Neither the Army nor the Marine Corps will part with them without a fight; current plans call for both to employ helicopters in attack roles for decades. Service officials contend that calling in heat-of-battle help from Air Force fighter jets takes too long when they aren't nearby. Choppers are more versatile, capable of maneuvering in tight spaces and low enough for an up-close view of the battlefield.

"I won't accept the premise [that] you can do without attack helicopters," says Lt. Gen. John Riggs, who is overseeing the Army's transformation efforts.

Adds retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle: "I think that they're more important now than ever. Tactical jets and tactical helicopters complement each other. No one airplane is ever all things to all people."

Had the opportunity to look at some of these bloggs that are really going rampant and becoming a little on the letting steam off kind... but thank god they are not all like that. Like this one that does nothing for me but just tickle my fancy loser, Lithium Tea Pot,WhiteWitch are becoming a tailgate party b4 I start.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]