back to article DARPA plans soldier-tagging system for US troops

DARPA, the Pentagon boffinry outfit which bestrides the tech world like some mighty, erratic robot colossus with a frikkin laser beam on its head, has made a new move. The plan is to electronically tag US combat soldiers in a similar fashion to criminals under judicial restraint, the idea being that the troops can then be …


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  1. Gordon

    IFPS seeking missile

    Is this idea as bad as it sounds? Surely theres a danger of it being reverse engineered or spoofed, resulting in the tags being tracked, ambushed, shelled etc.

    Why arent EM emissions as dangerous for a soldier as they are for the other services?

  2. A
    Black Helicopters

    Who detects whom?

    The Taliban (and other guerilla groups) have demonstrated their willingness to adopt new technology, as well as their ability to incorporate it into their tactics and strategy.

    If each US soldier is electronically tagged, it will make it easier for their opponents to attack them (e.g. IEDs with tag-detectors).

    Also, it will assist the guerillas in gathering information on the movement of US forces and planning accordingly.

    Furthermore, US forces will realise this and morale will be severely weakened. Knowing that the enemy knows exactly where you are, what you are doing and (probably) where you are going, while you can't see them, will sap any soldier's motivation. Additionally, the demonstrated inability of the central command to make sensible strategic decisions will aggravate the situation.

    Surely the Pentagon must have taken this into consideration, but I cannot imagine how they would turn such a vulnerability to their advantage in the long run.

    The above comments are made under the assumption that the Pentagon wants to conclude combat operations as soon as possible so that a step can be taken toward the end of the War on Terror.

    [Black helicopters, because I'm speaking out against some exec's pet project. And because "we've always been at war with Oceania".]

  3. Trygve Henriksen

    How powerful are the transmitters, and can the soldier turn them off?

    Just asking...

    Imagine if you're a soldier, hiding in the bushes or whatever to evade capture, and one of the infi... opposing forces pulls out one of the commercially available RF-detectors used to find radio-bugs or other snooping equipment?

    Or they just mount them under the floorboards, with a bit of explosive and turn the sensitivity down a bit...

  4. Anonymous Coward


    isn't staying hidden a big thing in the battlefield any longer? Having a beacon constantly report your position to the enemy seems counter-intuitive.

  5. Duckorange
    Dead Vulture

    Doomed to failure

    1. Capture US soldiers

    2. Confiscate their tags, place in iron-clad, booby-trapped bunker and await rescue party

    3 ???

    4. Profit!

  6. Yves Maurer


    Seems like a good idea until someone not so friendly figures out a way to read these and produce real-time maps of where the "enemy soldiers" are located. Doesn't seem out of the league of someone like China

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture


    soldiers = expendible

    RF kills off their reproductive system. Well known for years that the radio man will be firing blanks from his man-cannon by the time he leaves the services.

  8. Luther Blissett

    DARPA who?

    > DARPA, the Pentagon boffinry outfit which bestrides the tech world like some mighty, erratic robot colossus with a frikkin laser beam on its head

    A high-tech reincarnation of the Supreme Dalek then.

  9. Reptar

    Flash! Thunder!

    I imagine the system would be a hitech version of the method used by WWII troops to locate and identify each other. The enquirer would call out "Flash!" the receiver would answer "Thunder!" Only by knowing the code word "Flash" can you pursuade the receiver to Identify themselves. Only by knowing the reply code word "Thunder" can you convince the enquirer that you are genuine. The enquirer, who is not afraid to give away his position, initiates contact.

    This version would probably do the same, the electronic recievers would only respond with their ID when a broadcast coded message is detected.

    This means that troops would not be giving their position away (unless of course the opposition had cracked the key)

  10. Parax

    A Tit is Required.

    Fortunatly theres one or two at Darpa.

    Transmitter... RF Scanner... Dead Soldiers....

  11. Tawakalna
    Black Helicopters

    friendly fire?

    I take it this will make it easier for the Americans to shoot British targets erm allies, and lead to a whole new set of excuses for the British govt to invent to pretend it was really just a one off and wont happen again the Americans does promise us.

    hmm black helicopters, what's this flashing red thing strapped to my ankle for?

  12. Gordon Pryra


    Well thats screwed it Reptar, the originator is "Flash!" and now the tillytallyboon know it too !!!!

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Star Wars

    They give them a tag and tell them it's a Force Protection System, to make the young troopers feel like they're in Star Wars.


    They'll be giving them Transformers lunch boxes next.

  14. Will

    Is DARPA actually The Stig?

    <random though>

    Reason I ask is that every DARPA based story gets a great random babbling intro - exactly like The Stig on top gear!

    </random thought>

  15. TomatoQueen

    An assumption

    "..The above comments are made under the assumption that the Pentagon wants to conclude combat operations as soon as possible so that a step can be taken toward the end of the War on Terror."

    No, dear, that's not what the Pentagon does. Do keep up.

    DARPA. Used to be ARPA, where the Intarwebnetz was invented. I live about two miles from their office.

  16. Terry


    First the interrogation signal will likely not be spread spectrum, certainly not "very" spread if it indeed is not a single frequency. If for no other reason this is due to the antenna technology in the IFPS tag.

    So this means the bad guys don't have to decode it, just detect and replicate it. Then all surrounding tags would dutifully answer. Ah but you say you can put a time sensitive code in it like the fobs that RSA loves to hock to all big organizations. True....ish. Problem there is that once you settle on that autonomous time based code it is pretty darn hard to change. Certainly much harder than capturing a vehicle with the interrogation hardware on board. At the very best you're fighting a losing battle where MAYBE the enemy can't ALWAYS get your position at will.


    I can't improve on everything said about putting a captured tag on a big assed bomb and waiting for the fireworks. That seems like a certainty


    One other thing they mentioned was "recovering troops". That almost sounds like they expect the bad guys to leave this 3 inch square mystery module hanging on the soldier's neck? I think not, as pointed out, it is going to be on aforementioned "big assed bomb".

    Honestly, I think someone got star eyed looking at the product glossy. Trying to be open and honest I cannot see how this isn't one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard in my life. Land warrior is impractical, but a noble effort that could under different conditions be a valuable military asset.

    This is just some frustrated Army paper pusher who always wanted to be a pilotI*

    *Reference to IFF "Identify friend or foe". Works well on aircraft. But you're not going to hide a jet in a tree, and by the time it ends up in said tree the IFF hardware is pretty much non-functional anyway. The downed pilot is carrying a VERY small emergency radio. It is probably worth 20 dollars and didn't cost over 500. This foolishness will probably be a thousand each not to mention the 100K for the interrogator. There's a thought, give the troops the emergency radios, pocket many millions in savings and call it all sorted.

  17. ratfox

    How to make it work

    There are two ways I can see to make it work:

    - The tag sends a clear signal at least as long as it takes for goniometers to pick up the signal. The problem is that this signal can also be detected by the other faction. However, knowing in advance which frequency it will be gives you a significant advantage (we can assume the frequency will change every time). It is not possible for a goniometer to watch over every possible frequency at the same time, and though systems like ELTA's COMINT can explore thousands of frequencies per second, it is not fast enough to detect ultra-short emissions.

    - The tag could send a signal using CDMA, which allows to transmit UNDER the noise level, and thus is undetectable by goniometers. I do not know if a goniometer knowing the proper code could detect the direction of the transmission. The problem with this is that CDMA emissions use a spread spectrum, and that different frequencies interact differently with obstacles - making it much less precise. It might be possible for the tag to react to emissions sent by multiple interrogators and send the result by CDMA, allowing it to be located by techniques similar to GPS - the interferences between the emissions of the interrogators give a clear idea of where the tag is.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Sounds weird

    So the first tech-saavy terrorist gets wind of this, and all of a sudden, our troops end up getting stripped naked when they're captured, and the gear taken elsewhere to create an ambush. Brilliant.

    Unless it's subdermal, in which case, our soldiers might have some extra war-related amputations (and the aforementioned ambush still follows). Brilliant.

    This could also be used by the military to set up terrorist-targeted killzone traps.

    Um, that's kind of like terrorists using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

    Is there anyone who can tell us why the military would risk soldier's lives like this? Why would our military resort to terrorist tactics (killzone traps)? When did we become the enemy?

    This should demonstrate the difference between a military action (today's Iraq and Afghanistan) and a real war (destruction of all enemies, sympathizers, facilitators and weapon-making facilities - basically, genocide). This is just one step closer to true war.

    Hey, El Reg, where's the mushroom cloud icon?

  19. Andy Bright

    Surely if cost is the issue..

    Wouldn't it be much less expensive if US soldiers were required to wear luminous orange jumpsuits that fired a half dozen flares 2 thousand feet every other minute?

    I understand this would be a somewhat tricky situation near ammo dumps or inside tanks, but those are the breaks.

  20. Chris G

    Forget it

    If the thing is going to work it has to emit loudly enough to be detectable in a probably `noisy ´ in EM terms battlefield. Whether it frequency hops like Clansman etc or not makes no difference at all, the kit to detect such things for the enemy has been out there a long time and what it transmits does not matter. It will just make you a target. Each tag should come with a small portable bunker so that while the brass are keeping tabs on their boys, the boys can try to stay alive.

  21. Kradorex Xeron

    New mines

    I can just see them now, Mines that will blow the US troops up, but leave civilians (and the talaban's own) alone

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Future Headlines Related to this Story

    1. Ingenious soldiers motion-track local goats!

    2. Army Soldier Tracking System Linked to Sterility and Bone Cancer

    3. Service Wives Track Wayward Husbands with Ankle Bracelet

    4. Army Ankle Bracelets Signals Found Responsible for Transport Crash

    5. Taliban Triangulate on U.S. Positions Using Tracking Signals

    6. Al Qaeda Mutilates U.S. Soldiers for the Friend or Foe Identification Tags

    Paris--because she's not shy about letting us know what she's up to at all hours of the day and night....

  23. tempemeaty

    DOD defeats itself news at 11...

    Nothing like watching the DOD defeat itself before it even gets to the battle field. When tagged on the battlefield...if we can see them then the enemy can see them. LOL!

  24. Jeffrey Nonken
    Dead Vulture

    They won't transmit continuously...

    ... if they designers have any brains. Transponders have two advantages: one, their batteries last longer (receiving doesn't take as much power as transmitting), and two, it must receive the correct signal before it transmits. Yes, if the enemy figures it out, it won't be very secure. But it's not as bad as some are making out.

    And you don't want the soldier to have to turn it on. What if he's unconscious?

    A personal code for each device would be a help. After all, when you're looking for missing soldiers, you wouldn't want the tags on all the searchers to respond, hmm? And it would add a level of difficulty for the enemy.

    Presumably you know who is missing and have their codes recorded.

    I don't necessarily endorse this technology, but I wanted to point out answers to some of the problems I saw being mentioned.

    Dead vulture? Or just missing in action? :)

  25. Anonymous Coward

    How NOT to have revenge...

    ... teach the bad guys a lesson they remember, etc, etc...

    ISTR, after 9/11, there were plentiful (American) voices raised with comments along the lines of 'turn Afghanistan into a glass ashtray'... Seemed a touch extreme at the time, if completely understandable.

    Well, here we are, how many years down the line? How much money has it cost? How many civilians have lost their lives? How many Alliance military have died?

    Maybe, just maybe 20 or 30 crowd pleasers (5MT or better thermonuclear weapons) with a sprinkling of tactical nukes to fill in the gaps, would have been cheaper and cost less lives, ultimately.

    OK, it wouldn't have sorted out Iraq - after all, who want's to try and exploit oil in a radioactive wasteland, but It MIGHT just have been the right way to go with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    Not to mention sending an unmistakable 'do not fcuk with us' message to everyone... Which might have cooled Madman Hussien and the rest of his ilk down for the a good while. With a co-responding reduction in cost and loss of life on all sides there.

    As it is, the waste of resources and lives continues, and will continue, as this story demonstrates quite clearly.

  26. Benedict


    Is there any chance of a Google Earth mashup?

  27. Charles Manning

    re: flash thunder

    Flash and Thunder might have worked pretty well if you can tell a Brit accent from a German one.

    It probably won't work so well with electronic stuff. Remove the unit from a soldier, or swap it for cash/drugs and you have a perfectly working reply.

    Of course RF emissions are nothing new. Soldiers have radios and other electronics which are readily detected.

    In warfare, everything is about percentages. A new technology does not have to be flawless, it just has to give an advantage.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Re: How NOT to have revenge...

    yeah, but if you did that, you'd sprinkle fallout not only in Afghanistan, but in Iran, Pakistan, Kashmir, and India. Three out of four may not be bad, but that last one would suck. Where would our tech support phone calls be routed to then?!


    I'm okay now. I just tried to imagine the world without Baliwood.


    [El Reg, we need a Yagermeister icon.]

  29. William Doohan


    @ anonymous coward - Plenty of us Americans wanted to nuke those fuckers after 9/11. I was driving down the highway past a construction site a few weeks later and they had hung out a big banner that said "Drop the Bomb Pres!" .. seriously though, it would have been overkill. Plus, the Chinese might not have like that big plume of fallout headed their way. AND, the Russians might not have been too thrilled at tracking 20 or 50 incoming SLBM's from the Indian ocean.

  30. Rob

    Erm..... this sounds like the plot of MGS4.

    I am the only one here who's actually played through the game?

    The plot to Metal Gear Solid 4 hinges on post-NATO soldiers being electronically tagged, and thereby monitored/controlled, by a network of AIs set-up by the US remnants of the "Philosophers" (read that as the Illuminati). The nano-tech to facilitate this supposedly comes directly from DARPA.

    The system is called SOP: "Sons Of the Patriots".

    Something about the writing of this article sent a chill through my bones as I read it.

    Ah wait, there's my coat.

  31. Aodhhan


    1. It isn't on continuously

    2. It uses frequency hopping

    3. everything has a bad side; even aircraft

    4. I think the Taliban has other things it would rather spend its money on, than electronics to counter this

    5. There are a lot of odd-ball tones on a variety of frequencies... and we can even drop transmitters in enemy territory to confuse yet distinguish from those worn by troops

    6. They will be worried about being led into a "trap"

    ... you get the point by now.

  32. rick buck

    tagged euphemism

    A tag (euphemism) would probably be sub-cutaneous, so it could not be removed, turned off, lost or commandeered (without bloodletting). The first thing a captured soldier would be subjected to >would be stripped of his clothes and ornament (Tags, dog and otherwise), so we would have dead soldiers being used to set-up an IED attack, thus the TAG would sense lifesigns and report a positive/negative response.

    It would probably only RE-sound, after a authenticated ping/handshake, with certain status results transmitted together, all with-in a small distance to increase accuracy.

    And Iran/Iraq was/is/maybe referred to as a "Sea of Glass". In Afganastan this would not be achieved with ICBM's but with Suit-Case Nukes, They're Easy to transport, do not set the Chinese and Ruskies to scrambling to retaliate, and deliver a controlled "Flash & Splash". Maybe of the Neutron type to minimize any radiation; Heck it even leaves the buildings standing!

    They/It would be "Delivered" after we gain knowledge of a training camp of non-native radically oriented individuals or even OBL's location, maybe after he ingested one of them there TAGS in his goats head soup, Knocking at his door would be done with a drone or perhaps a rattle placed in the boot of his conveyance (camera in place to see the look upon his face when he tries to shut the lid). He might even stumble upon it in his trek up through the mountain passes, an American version of an IED! Surprise!

    Boom, Shak-A-Lak-A! BOOM!

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