US army aims to take P2P into battle

In the future soldiers could share data during combat by using peer-to-peer networking
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor on

The US army is developing ways to integrate wireless peer-to-peer technology into its training methods, and is also considering using P2P networking in real military combat situations.

The current focus of the army's research is on ways of improving battle simulations. It believes that by linking together hundreds of soldiers, each equipped with a head-mounted display that broadcasts details of a virtual environment, it would be possible for military units to accurately simulate various scenarios.

Current computer-based training methods consist of client-server systems. Senior army officials have realised, though, that giving soldiers powerful mobile computers that can wirelessly connect to each other would have considerable advantages. With some technical advances, army officials hope to create "reality systems" containing computer-generated characters such as civilians and enemy soldiers, which would allow large numbers of soldiers to train together.

Michael Macedonia, the chief scientist and technical director for the US Army Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM), believes that in the future armed forces could use P2P-connected equipment to rehearse a mission.

In an interview with O'Reilly Network's OpenP2P.com, Macedonia explained that in the future a squad could virtually practice an attack while out in the field, before carrying it out for real. "Your training system suddenly becomes your mission-planning system. Before I go attack that hill. I'm going to run a simulation of it with my squad over the next 10 minutes, and simulate it virtually while we're waiting here for orders," he said.

The idea sounds rather like a cross between Quake and Quasar, but Macedonia insists that this "simulation on demand" would improve performance and reduce casualties for the US army.

Macedonia told OpenP2P.com that the idea of soldiers sharing live data between each other in a real combat simulation was "the holy grail" for technology planners within the military. He thinks that forthcoming wireless technology, such as 3G and 4G networks and the 802.11 local area network technology could make this an achievable goal.

"We're trying to develop a model of simulation that essentially provides a very powerful computing capability to every soldier in the army," said Macedonia. "From a military context, having a centralised server is a point of failure, a critical failure node. You don't want to put all your data on one server because once someone takes that server out, you've got a lot of blind people with a lot of useless electronics," he told OpenP2P.com.

This endorsement of P2P by the US army illustrates what an important technology it will be in the future. Research group Gartner predicted recently that P2P will revolutionise the Internet, and that by 2004 it will have become a mainstream technology. The popularity of services such as Napster have boosted the public understanding of P2P -- although it relied on a central computer to organise the search requests from Napster users.

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