Tuesday 26 October 2010

The science of military communications

I wonder if any of you based in the UK remember the British Telecom television advertisements of the late 1980s featuring ‘Beattie’, played by Maureen Lipman? In the most frequently quoted episode, Beattie’s pride leads her to see only the silver lining in her grandson’s otherwise poor GCSE results. Finding that he passed only pottery and sociology, she declares, “An ology! He gets an ology and he says he's failed. You get an ology - you're a scientist!”

It’s probably fair to say, there will be a few scientists attending the MILCOM show in San Jose at the end of the month. Maybe the organisers should organise a competition to see how many ‘ologies’ you can spot. Going right back to military origins, several ‘ologies’ would be needed to discover the earliest known occurrence of warfare. Between humans that is; not between humans and aliens – for that you just need imagination or a Heinlein book. You could imagine archaeology and geology being used to identify the defensive nature of early settlements. You can surely envisage anthropology and palaeontology being used to study the origins, and the social and cultural development of early warriors.

It’s appealing to think that warfare probably began as the result of a breakdown in communications. After commerce had been established between villages or herding camps, local competition over resources could well have given rise to the earliest conflicts. You can just imagine how it might have transpired; “Now look guys, let’s not be hasty here!” Wouldn’t unravelling those ancient conversations become the science of ‘communicatology’?

Incidentally, the earliest evidence for man having died a violent death due to the aggression of another comes from c. 18,000 BC in the remains of a young man. He was found near the Nile River with several spear points embedded in his upper body. At that time, archaeological and geological evidence suggests that food was scarce, so perhaps he died in a fight over the means of subsistence. The first archaeological record of what could have been a prehistoric battle is to be found at a Mesolithic site, also near the Nile, on the Egypt-Sudan border. That find includes more bodies and arrowheads, clearly indicating the casualties of a battle, which have been determined to be about 13,140 to 14,340 years old.

These days, the sciences involved in communications are largely employed to detect and avoid or prevent conflict arising. If early warning systems fail, it is also deployed to help win the battles and the war. This is evident from the military acronym ‘C4I’ – meaning ‘command, control, communications, computers and intelligence’. Command and control (C2) is about decision-making, and it’s supported by computers and communications; two pervasive enabling technologies that support C2 through intelligence (that’s the ‘I’).

Aculab’s enabling technologies are used extensively in military communications systems, providing many essential functions such as the core media processing capabilities for enhanced voice processor units, and a variety of signalling and media gateways. DSP boards and host media processing (HMP) software can be readily integrated through Aculab’s APIs (high- and low-level APIs are available), enabling the development of a wide range of platforms and systems for military specific applications. That’s why we call it enabling technology – yes, it’s an ‘ology’ and scientifically speaking, you may call it ‘communicatology’. Why don’t you stop by booth 1337 when you’re at MILCOM next week; we’d be pleased to see you.

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