14 December 2009

Eh, I'll just fork over $500 for my own moving-map GPS...

The Economist had a great article this week entitled "The Military-Consumer Complex". In years past, the civilian world benefited greatly from the fruits of military research--nuclear power, computers, the Internet, and jet planes all became common place years after they had become tried-and-true military phenomena. This is largely due to the fact that the military often has great sums of money with which to research and develop these products.

In the 21st Century, though, things are changing, particularly in the field of electronics. For example, Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are carrying iPod Touches complete with language programs, and more than a few have smuggled in their own civilian GPS with which to navigate. Indeed, due to the amount of time that contractors take to research, develop, field, implement, and train users on a piece of electronic gear, that piece of equipment sometimes becomes obsolete. Hence, Soldiers' willingness to buy off-the-shelf items in order to speed up the Military-Industrial-Complex's OODA Loop.

Many of us have stories of civilian products which outperform military spec products, but I have to rant and rave against my least favorite military gizmo:

With the UH-60 Black Hawk being the last of the non-glass cockpit aircraft in the US Army inventory, contractors have been able to make it a bit more viable in the 21st Century, digital world by installing this electronic kneeboard thing in the cockpit. Unfortunately, it was developed about 5-10 years ago, so it's big, it's bulky, it has a slow processor that runs on Windows XP, and many of its functions are a tad counter-intuitive. While it's not a bad piece of gear, the amount of time we spend fiddling with the thing, waiting for it to load, and trying to remember how to manipulate the counter-intuitive functions leads to many pilots jokingly refer to this thing as the "head's-down-display".

While it does provide for relatively decent moving map capabilities, the combined moving map display/1990-model GPS on the Black Hawk hardly compare to the latest portable aviation GPS devices on the market, many of which are not only far less bulky and more user-friendly, but also rated for instrument flight conditions, unlike the GPS found on most UH-60 helicopters.

I know I'm not the only person who's found a piece of civilian equipment which outperforms military equipment. What piece of civilian electronic gear do you pack instead of your standard Army-issue stuff?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read that article on the bus this morning, and found it pretty compelling. And I also really want to see that Air Force supercomputer built out of Playstations.