mm142: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

MUDGE’S Musings

Got to tell you, like most of us, I have long since developed war fatigue. And I’m nowhere near the front. All I seem to be able to do is wring my hands and whimper, “Get our soldiers out of this!”

But, I have a soft spot for technology, and this is a technology story, about Iraq. But of course, wars are fought by women and men. And this is even more a story about a creative and determined man who took on as his mission to sell a particular technology to the command structure.

So we’ll take a look.


Greg Harbin saw a way to streamline airstrikes. The solution — and his cause — was the Rover, a device that would one day save his life.

By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 13, 2007

In the summer of 2003, an Air Force pilot named Greg Harbin was doing desk duty at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

Day in and day out, Harbin sat in front of five computer screens, scanning photographs and video sent by unmanned planes flying 1,200 miles away, over Iraq and Afghanistan.

His job was to take that information, along with reports from ground troops, and identify fresh targets — Taliban fighters or Iraqi insurgents.

But one thing puzzled him.

When regular units called for an attack by a Predator drone, the request went to Harbin, and then, if approved by a general, to “pilots” in Nevada, who fired the missile by remote control. The process often took as long as 45 minutes.

By contrast, special operations forces could call in attacks by unmanned Predator aircraft in less than a minute.

The difference, Harbin learned, was that a handful of special ops units were equipped with a device called the Rover, which gave them the same view as the pilots in Nevada. This greatly simplified communications.

Why don’t all American fighting units have the Rover? he asked himself. Then he put the question to his boss, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan, commander of the Air Force in the Middle East. Buchanan’s reply: Why indeed.

There’s a lot that’s intriguing about this story. The Predator UCAV, symbolic of technology (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) that will one day make human aircraft pilots sitting inside their aircraft an obsolete and quaint artifact of the first century of aviation.

Then there’s the Rover technology.

The Rover, or the Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver, was born in 2002, shortly after the Afghanistan war began.

Christopher Manuel, an Army Special Forces chief warrant officer, had long wanted ground units to see, in real time, the video footage shot by Predators. After serving in Afghanistan, he traveled to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to make his case. Engineers quickly developed a prototype of the Rover system.

Over the next year, it was used exclusively by special operations forces. Harbin’s mission to widen access to the technology began with the 82nd Airborne, the first conventional forces to use the system. His next stop was Mosul, Iraq, and the 101st Airborne Division, which happened to be his brother Eric’s unit.

And then there’s Greg Harbin’s unique story. Take a look at the complete article, along with its embedded video.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Los Angeles Times: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

There’s so much to like here. The Katrina angle.

The life-saving angle (his own!)

The technological evangelist angle (your humble correspondent likes to believe he maintains that role for the technology he represents in his place of employment).

“I am not the guy who invented it. I am not the guy who built it. I am not the only one who believes in it,” Harbin said. “My role was to get it out there.”

But, mainly, it’s about how one person, among millions, has used his creativity, initiative and will to make a difference. It’s Archimedes’ lever.

In the light of Harbin’s example, how much more tragic is it that, as of this writing, 3,781 soldiers have died in Iraq.

Once again, even worse than the trillions Bush has mortgaged and squandered, the human capital lost is even more irreplaceable.

Can’t get that bumper sticker out of my thoughts:

January 20, 2009

Bush’s last day

Congress, do the American people, especially its courageous women and men combatants, have to wait that long?

It’s it for now. Thanks,



12 Responses to mm142: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

  1. madmouser says:

    Thanks for sharing the extremely interesting revelations on the ‘Rover’ technology.

  2. mudge says:

    … and thanks for noticing!

  3. […] impetus was this recent posting about the creative use of the Predator UAV by an enterprising officer, Greg Harbin, who has been […]

  4. […] previously in this space (here, here and even here) about the fascinating advent of robotic military aircraft, Unmanned Aerial […]

  5. […] U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war […]

  6. […] U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war […]

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