Hi-tech centre lifts fog of war

June 13, 2003

A group led by engineers at the University of Birmingham intends to do away with the "fog of war", the uncertainty and danger that have plagued the battlefield for centuries, and replace it with solid information, writes Martin Ince.

Bob Stone, director of the Human Factors Integration Defence Technology Centre, said that the Birmingham group had already discovered that wearable computers could give soldiers in battle information on a par with the facts available at headquarters.

Professor Stone said: "The first work package that the new centre is going to undertake will be on human factors in future systems for command and control on the battlefield. There will be trials in the field and in the laboratory to demonstrate how information can be displayed on the battlefield to provide much more sophisticated command and control than we have today. If it works, there will also be applications in the emergency services and perhaps even in schools."

Professor Stone said that the centre was set up because military technology was developing at a pace that was outrunning the organisations that used it.

"Between conflicts, technology moves on fast. So when the conflict starts, nobody knows how to integrate something novel, say, data from an unmanned plane, into the operation they are trying to carry out," he said.

The centre, which involves Birmingham, Brunel and Cranfield universities and five defence contractors, will be working on systems to control future battlefields in which people will have to coexist with semi-autonomous machines.

Professor Stone said: "It is most like the environment you get underwater.

There you find divers, people in undersea vehicles and remote-controlled vehicles all being overseen by an operator at the surface in front of TV displays. The implication of the work we are doing is that there will be a single 'virtual environment' in future conflicts, a computer-generated picture networked to a range of users."

The centre has a budget of £5.8 million for three years, of which £1.5 million will be spent at Birmingham. There could be a three-year extension if the first phase succeeds.

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