I just finished a show on “NatGeo” about the private security firms working in Iraq. It was a really interesting watch. They’re not there to engage in combat, but they’re there for “security,” such as escorting construction materials for a new police station (something insurgents are eager to stop), and transporting VIPs around.
IEDs are apparently a huge problem, moreso than the news portrays. One of the guys brought back his SUV, with the whole side blown in and full of bullet holes. The SUV was “reinforced,” meaning that it had bullet-proof glass and huge steel plates over it, and yet it was still in terrible shape. He made it out alright, although the driver, an Iraqi, died. “That was my seventh IED,” he mentioned casually.
Most are apparently set on desolate roads, and are basically just tripped by any car. There are often just tripwires that set them off, versus manually being tripped. Which got me thinking of an old idea…
I want to build an “RC Car,” something radio-controlled. Except I don’t mean a little RC car. I mean an actual car that’s driven remotely. With GPS and a set of video cameras (plus a high-speed, low-latency data link), you could be pretty accurate. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to remotely drive one of these down Route 3 (although I think you could design it to work pretty accurately). But I think they might rock in Iraq. You send one out a quarter-mile in front of your “real” convoy. No one’s in it, but its main purpose would be to trip IEDs, and do some scouting for you. From the back of a van in tow, or from a remote headquarters, people could watch for anything suspicious. And, “worst case,” it trips an IED, effectively wasting the IED on blowing up a van with no one in it. The real people behind could either divert their course, or plow on through, knowing that the bomb had been detonated.
I’ve also thought RC planes would be interesting. These days they’re “UAVs,” unmanned aerial vehicles. What I have in mind is isn’t the military UAV, a “real” airplane remotely controlled, but something a couple feet long with some cameras. Outfit it with GPS and various data links, such that it can stream video real-time, or even capture higher-resolution still images and transmit those. (Heck, fit a high-end camera on it, but have it transmit a 640×480 image, and just store the full-res to an 8GB Flash drive…)
I always thought it’d be cool to have as a pet project. Fly it around and go “sight-seeing” from your room, with what’s essentially a wireless webcam in the sky. I think they’d also be popular with places doing mapping / “satellite” imagery, as you could send these little things up and just have them run autonomously, snapping photos of an area until the batteries / gas ran low, at which point they’d return “home.”
But these things would rock in combat, too. Send these out over areas you’ve got to travel. (And areas you’re not travelling, to keep them guessing.) At a remote command post, someone can spot potential threats and identify them long before they become a problem. (You could even try grazing them with your mini RC plane.)
I don’t know what sort of radio infrastructure over there (well, I know they’re running CDM1250s and HT1250s, but I mean, I don’t know if they run repeaters / what power they run), but you might even fit a portable repeater on the little UAV, ensuring that their portable radios could still keep in touch with their post miles away.
As an aside, the radios I saw them with in the show don’t support encryption, meaning that it really wouldn’t be hard for insurgents to tune in. Their bombs keep getting more and more complex, showing that they’ve got some technically-minded people on board. It seems like a pretty bad idea to me to not encrypt your radio traffic in those circumstances.