Whack-a-Mole comes to real world combat
An old idea has been updated and brought back in the latest military weapon system. Back in Vietnam, the firebases and forward positions were under constant sneak attack from the Vietcong under the cloak of night. The first response to this was what they called Panic Minute. This was a random minute chosen several times per day and night in which every soldier would shoot their weapon for one full minute. They would shoot into the jungle without having any particular target. We know it worked sometimes because patrols would find bodies just beyond the edge of the clearing. But it also did not work a number of times and fire bases were being overrun on a regular basis.
The next response was Agent Orange. Originally called a defoliant and designed to just make the trees and bushes drop all their leaves. Of course, the effect was to kill all plant life and often making the soil infertile for years after. They stopped it when they began to notice that it also was not particularly good for humans. It acted as a neurotoxin causing all kinds of problems in soldiers that were sprayed or that walked thru it.
The third and most successful response to these sneak attacks was a top secret program called Sentry. Remember when this was in the mid to late 60s and early 70s. Electronics was not like it is now. The Walkman, which was simply a battery operated transistor radio, was not introduced until 1978. We were still using 8-track cartridge tapes and reel-to-reel recorders. All TVs used tubes and the concept of integrated circuits was in its infancy. Really small spy cameras were about the size of a pack of cigarettes and really small spy type voice transmitters were about half that size. Of course, like now, the government and the military had access to advances that had not yet been introduced to the public.
One such advance was the creation of the sensors used in the Sentry program. They started with a highly sensitive vibration detector. We would call them geophones now but back then they were just vibration detectors. Then they attached a high frequency (VHF) transmitter that would send a clicking sound in response to the detectors being activated by vibrations.
The first version of this was called the PSR-1 Seismic Intrusion detector and is fully described on several internet sites. This was a backpack size device connected to geophones the size of D cell batteries. It worked and proved the concept but it was too bulky and required the sensors to be connected by wires to the receiver. The next version was much better.
What was remarkable about the next attempt was that they were able to embed the sensor, transmitter and batteries inside a package of hard plastic and coated on the outside with a flat tan or brown irregular surface. All this was about the size of one penlight battery. This gave them the outward appearance of being just another rock or dirt clog and it was surprisingly effective. These rocks were molded into a number of unique shapes depending on the transmitting frequency.
The batteries were also encased in the plastic and it was totally sealed. It was on from the moment of manufacture until the batteries died about 2 months later. A box of them would contain 24 using 24 different frequencies and 24 different click patterns and were shipped in crates of 48 boxes. The receiver was a simple radio with what looked like a compass needle on it. It was an adaptation of the RFDF (radio frequency direction finder) used on aircraft. It would point the needle toward an active transmitter and would feed the clicking to its speaker.
In the field, a firebase would scatter these rocks in the jungle around the firebase, keeping a record of the direction that each different frequency rock was thrown from the base. All of the No. 1 rocks from 6 to 10 boxes were thrown in one direction. All of the No. 2 rocks were thrown in the next direction, and so on. The vibration detectors picked up the slightest movement within a range of 10 to 15 meters (30-50 feet). The firebase guards would setup the receiver near the middle of the sensor deployment and would monitor it 24 hours a day. When it began clicking and pointing in the direction of the transmitting sensors, the guard would call for a Panic Minute directed in that direction. It was amazingly effective.
In todays Army, they call this Geophysical MASINT (measurement and signature intelligence) and the devices have not actually changed much. The rocks still look like rocks but now they have sensors in them other than just seismic. Now they can detect specific sounds, chemicals and light and can transmit more than just clicks to computers. The received quantitative data is fed into powerful laptop computers and can be displayed as fully analyzed in-context information with projections of what is happening. It can even recommend what kind of response to take.
These sensors rocks are dispersed at night by UAVs or dropped by recon troops and are indistinguishable from local rocks. Using multiple sensors and reception from several different rocks, it is possible to locate the source of the sensor readings to within a few feet. This is much the same as the way the phone companies can track your locations using triangulation from multiple cell towers. Using only these rocks, accuracy can be reduced to within ten feet or less but when all this data is integrated into the Combat Environmental Data (SID) network, targets can be identified, confirmed, located and placed within 2 or 3 feet.
What the Army has done with all this data is create a near automated version of Whack-a-Mole by integrating the use of artillery and the Digital Rifle System (DSR) into the SID and rock sensor network. The result is the ability to setup a kill zone (KZ) that can be as big as 30 miles in diameter. This KZ is sprinkled with the sensor rocks and the AIR systems of the DRS and linked by the SID network into strategically placed DRS rifles and digitally controlled artillery. When these various systems and sensors are all in place, the Army calls it a WAK zone (pronounced Whack) – hence the nickname Whack-a-Mole.
The WAK zone computers are programmed with recognition software of specifically targeted people, sounds, chemicals and images that constitute a confirmed kill target. When the WAK zone computers make that identity, it automatically programs the nearest DRS rifle or the appropriate artillery piece to fire on the target. For now, the actual fire command is still left to a person but it is fully capable of a full automatic mode. In several tests in Afghanistan, it has not made any identification errors and the computerized recommendation to shoot has always been confirmed by a manual entry from a live person.
Studies and contractors are already working on integrating UAVs into the sensor grids so that KZs of hundreds of miles in diameter can be defined. The UAVs would provide not only arieal sensors of visual, IR and RF detection but also they will carry the kill weapon.
Whack-a-Mole comes to the battlefield!