Grow Up, Gamers
America's Army, the overwhelmingly successful video game recruiting tool, and Full Spectrum Warrior, the combat game built to military specs, spawned increased interest in the use of games for training across the military services and other agencies. But game-makers who view the government as just one big open wallet will be disappointed.
"The government is not going to adapt to work with gamers," says Roger Smith, chief scientist and chief technical officer for the Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation in Orlando, Fla. "We have an entire [simulation] industry base for the military-billions of dollars . . . just directed at us because the military has unique demands," Smith told an audience of game designers and potential buyers at the Serious Games Conference in Washington on Oct. 31.
It's not that the Pentagon and other agencies aren't interested in gamers' wares. It's that military buyers need "many military-unique pieces [that] are not in a closed-box game," Smith said. Having invested hundreds of millions of dollars in simulators in the mid- to late-1990s, the services aren't about to throw them away to adopt games, he added. Instead, they will continually modify simulators through the end of their useful lives, sometime around 2015. Nevertheless, Defense recognizes that games are cheaper and provide more adaptable, richer and more realistic environments than traditional simulations.
But the Pentagon doesn't want to buy finished games; it wants to buy pieces of games to build what it wants. "We need the pieces to be separable. . . . we need each piece to have an interface that is publicly exposed so you can glue them together yourself," Smith said. Military users also want game pieces to be mixable with the simulations made by traditional defense contractors. Deconstructing games also will enable competitive bidding on the parts.
Game-makers should expect to morph if they want military sales, Smith said: "Serious games are a temporary phenomenon for the military. Military users will create their own industry. Game companies will become traditional defense contractors . . . . a lot of companies will be acquired by big [defense contractors]." The big Defense firms aren't in the games market yet, he said, because they're not clear where simulations begin and games leave off, and they aren't sure how big the market will be.
Smith can help them see the opportunity: "If game technology remains cheap, we can build devices [to train] medical people, logisticians, military police, linguists, maintenance people. Moving beyond the traditional simulation audience is where the real benefit lies."
On the Fence
The Democratic sweep of the midterm elections could blow down plans for 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border approved in legislation signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., likely chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, plans to review the law and replace the proposed fencing with more sensors and cameras.
Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of Chicago already has begun work on 28 miles of virtual fence near Sasabe, Ariz. It has a $2 billion contract with the Homeland Security Department to create a net of sensors, cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles to detect unwanted visitors coming in from Mexico and Canada. The project is to include 1,800 towers, ranging from 80 feet to 200 feet high, with cameras and motion detectors, UAVs and satellite phones for Customs and Border Protection agents. But the DHS inspector general says the department isn't up to managing such a large and costly project.
- Crossing the Desert
- The border wall near San Diego forced the flow of illegal immigrants east to the remote desert of Arizona. Between 1992 and 2004, arrests of illegal immigrants declined 76 percent in the San Diego sector, while they increased 591 percent in the Yuma, Ariz., sector.
- Landing Strips to Border Barricades
- Along the border in California, Arizona and Texas are stretches of fencing made of Army surplus steel mats used to create landing strips during the Vietnam War. The mats are 12 feet long, 20 inches wide and a quarter-inch thick. It takes 3,080 panels to make a mile-long barrier; about 62 miles have been constructed.
- Stemming the Tide
- In 1990, the Border Patrol erected the first barrier in its San Diego district, which extends 66 miles from the Pacific Ocean and encompasses 7,000 square miles north of Tijuana and Tecate, Mexico. The 14-mile wall was to deter illegal entry and drug smuggling. In 1996, construction began on a secondary fence to parallel the first, but the California Coastal Commission halted completion in 2004 .
Caught at the Border
The number of arrests of illegal immigrants along the southern border has fluctuated, but appears to have risen this year due to stepped-up enforcement and the presence of 6,000 National Guard troops. Arrests don't equal people; many immigrants are apprehended repeatedly.
Source: Migration Policy Institute