Before I got into journalism, writing, and photography, I worked on computers. Building and repairing computers was a great way to get through school compared to slinging fast food, and in the beginning I was thinking I’d get a degree that had something to do with IT. Most of the problems were challenging, but they were a fun kind of challenge. Plus, putting together a high-end graphics or gaming machine for a customer and making it look cool inside was a lot of fun.
Malware Ruins Everything
But then came the malware. The Blaster worm was downright awful, but that came and went pretty quickly. Later, the Sasser worm (ca. 2004) made things a huge pain, and it seemed that after that, work went from something fun and challenging to 90% of our time being consumed by malware removal. Sometimes we’d remove it, but often we couldn’t. That meant we’d have to format and reinstall the operating system.
Around the same time, computer companies dropped their prices and it was only rarely economical for us to build a computer. It got to the point where repair was often not a good option. By 2006, I was completely burnt out and had moved on to other things.
I also know from my time in that industry that even the best systems can become a total mess once you have people actually start using them. Some people just aren’t very good at doing things visually, and most computer systems are designed to do exactly that. No matter how hard you try to explain doing new things to some people, some just aren’t going to pick it up.
Perhaps worse, sometimes an expensive purchase means that people are very hesitant to move on to something newer when the old one becomes obsolete. I had to learn to tell elderly business owners ‘No’ when they started asking about keeping some software they were still running from the early 1990s. Some wanted to take radical steps like building an old computer from surplus parts or trying to install their old crap in a virtual machine on a new computer. By the time it was all said and done, they always wished they had just paid to upgrade instead of stubbornly trying to keep living in the past.
Now, Soldiers Will Carry and Wear Computer Networks
I know from talking to people who do military IT work that all of these problems exist on military installations just as they do here in the outside world, but we’ve never had the problem of sending much complex information technology past the front line and directly onto close combat forces. Frighteningly, that’s exactly what the military is doing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a neo-luddite who thinks that we shouldn’t do new things with the technological tools we have.
As I’ve expressed in other articles, the capabilities that come with the XM157 will be game-changing. Being able to quickly adjust for windage and bullet drop without having to do any thinking will greatly enhance lethality. Seeing what other people have tagged, knowing where targets and enemy forces are, and even receiving information from commanding officers, aircraft, and satellites in your optic will greatly help with situational awareness. Being able to tag an enemy position with your optic and then tell a pilot exactly where to strike will be priceless.
We’re making science fiction and video games reality here in many ways.
What makes all of this possible is connectivity. The XM157 will wirelessly connect to IVAS helmets like the one this guy is wearing . . .
The IVAS system and the XM157 optic will use this on-body computing system to connect to other nearby soldiers, with headquarters, and with other military assets. If you look closely, you can see that there’s a lot of cabling involved, and there’s probably a lot of data moving not only wirelessly, but on the wearer’s body itself.
With those enhanced capabilities will come problems. Microsoft (the company making the IVAS system) is already having issues, and the military recently delayed the contract to address more of them. Given the problems Windows computers often have that Apple and Linux-based systems don’t, we really should be asking whether we want the latest version of Windows to be something people at the front gamble their lives on.
Bugs Are A Smaller Problem
New systems, including the much more expensive F-35, are having similar issues, and they’ll be worked out. But that only means that these new information fusion systems will then have to face the gauntlet of security. With some of what soldiers will be wearing being powered by Microsoft, you can bet there will be some security holes that come from zero-day exploits, as explained in the following video . . .
Enemies like the People’s Liberation Army will do anything to get their hands on these systems and start picking them apart. Hackers will be working long and hard to see if they can penetrate them and find ways to not only spy on U.S. forces, but to inject bad information into soldiers’ units that gets them to do the worst things at the worst times. Or, they might just find ways to distract and confuse soldiers.
I know that there are people working to keep these systems secured, but it’s only a matter of time before someone finds their way in and something like this happens . . .
“You know the rules and so do I,” the soldier’s optic displays. “A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of. You wouldn’t get this from any other guy. I just wanna tell you how I’m feeling. Gotta make you understand. Never gonna give you up. Never gonna let you down…”
Just then, his radio started playing this song while his IVAS helmet plays the following video in glorious 3D . . .
The military had better start working now to make sure soldiers know and how to react what to do when they’re Rickrolled. Or worse.