Putting a SCARE into IEDs

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 @ 05:04 PM gHale


Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan or other locations are taking their toll on humans as they kill or maim countless soldiers in battle.

To combat those brutal devices, researchers developed and successfully tested new computer software and computational techniques to analyze patterns of IED attacks and predict the locations of weapons caches used by insurgents to support those attacks.

A new computational technique called geospatial abduction designed to help analysts locate caches of explosive weapons is now under development by University of Maryland computer science Ph.D. student Paulo Shakarian and computer science Professor V.S. Subrahmanian, working with University of Torino (Italy) computer science Professor Maria-Luisa Sapino.

The software, called SCARE (Spatio-Cultural Abductive Reasoning Engine) allows human analysts to combine available intelligence with this analytical computational technique to identify the most probable locations of IED weapons caches. The researchers said tests conducted with the SCARE software have been accurate.

“The SCARE software is not a stand-alone tool,” said Subrahmanian, who also is director of the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies “Military commanders and intelligence analysts would use SCARE in conjunction with their own experience and knowledge of a region, and together with available intelligence to pinpoint likely cache locations.”

“SCARE is designed to address a very real tactical problem our soldiers encounter on a regular basis,” said Shakarian, who is a U.S. Army Captain enrolled in the Army’s Advanced Civil Schooling program “By helping concentrate the focus of both observations and searches, we think SCARE would allow field commanders to better deploy resources, and in many cases, catch insurgents in the process of resupplying such locations or actually carrying out IED attacks.” Shakarian has spent over two years in Iraq.

To test their technique, Subrahmanian, Shakarian and Sapino ran through the SCARE program publically available data on the locations of IED attacks in Baghdad that occurred over a 21-month period. Researchers then compared the locations of IED caches predicted by SCARE with actual locations of caches found in that region during that time. The predictions usually were within a half mile of actual locations.

The SCARE software with its logic-based, mathematical algorithms, starts from known information to plot out underlying patterns and locations.

Researchers based the SCARE mathematical formula on abductive logic. Classical deductive reasoning tries to state what follows from a set of facts, while abduction tries to find the best explanation for a set of observations. In this case, the observations are the locations of the IED attacks, together with the ethnic make-up of neighborhoods. The best explanations correspond to the most likely locations for the weapons caches supporting these attacks.

A different type of logic-based computational system and software called SOMA developed at the University of Maryland is a formal, logical-statistical reasoning language. It uses data about past behavior of terror groups to learn rules about the probability of an organization, community, or person taking certain actions in different situations in the future.

Subrahmanian and another Maryland colleague, John Dickerson, just wrote about how computerized modeling and prediction of group behavior, together with improvements in video game graphics, are making possible virtual worlds in which defense analysts can explore and predict results of many different possible military and policy actions.



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