Ah, this military GPS system looks shoddy but expensive. Shall we try to break it?

Did we say break? We meant test its 'survivability'

203 Reg comments Got Tips?

Who, Me? Hello, dear readers. We see you've come for your weekly dose of Who, Me? to shake off this serious case of the Mondays.

So come with us to 2011, in our weekly column where Reg readers get their worst misdeeds off their chests.

"Joe" was working in the British Army and had been sent a load of trial GPS kit for section level force tracking.

"They came in lovely beige boxes, all secure and sealed with only the push buttons available," Joe told us.

It was well recognised that this kit was, as Joe put it, "a complete and utter rip-off".

For instance, it included a "cable tidy" that was made of "high denier cordura [fabric] which cost around £250 per item, when the real cost was less than £50".

As signal instructors, Joe and his colleague were tasked with sorting through the dozens of boxes, trying to put them in some sort of order and figuring out a bit more about the kit.

"The instructions were pretty poor, but as far as we could tell, each soldier would strap a small box on (about half the size of a VHS box), which held the GPS unit inside it," he said.

"They'd cable it up to a battery pack which they'd store somewhere else on their person (where, we had no idea)."

The section commander would have all of this, along with another unit – which Joe said was "like the dodgy '80s tracking devices you see in the movies" with a green screen, circular distance markers and flashing lights to show where troops were.

Swearing and ranting

Blue Monday: Efforts to inspire teamwork with swears back-fires for n00b team manager


"This was about the size and double the thickness of a VHS tape," said Joe, adding that he had "no idea" why he was using VHS tapes as a unit of measurement. (Perhaps angling to get it included as a Reg Standard?)

Anyway, Joe and his colleague were "pretty pissed off with it all" and were desperate to know what was inside the kit.

"The startup screen on the Command unit showed the old Nokia logo from the 3310 era, and by all accounts could have been something similar," he said.

So the pair of them decided to do some "light survivability testing", as he euphemistically branded it.

Of course, the team hadn't actually been asked to do any such testing, and the units were "really very expensive".

They were also designed to be worn by soldiers, and presumably get pretty thrashed about.

"Which was why, in the hangar in the tank park, we felt an accurate test would be to drop them from chest height onto the concrete floor," said Joe.

"They bounced relatively well, a few scrapes, the odd bit of weak corner plastic popping off, but nothing too shabby."

And so they decided to take it to the next level, and, er, "emulate an angry and frustrated soldier". By flinging one of the units at the wall, which put a hole in the asbestos-laced barrier, but caused minimal damage to the unit.

By this point, the pair had been sorting through "units and cables and guff" for hours and had both lost the will to live.

"We stood slightly apart, staring in silence at all the units lying on the floor in front of us, when I spotted a sledgehammer leaning against the tank next to me," said Joe.

"Picking it up by the handle, I looked at my oppo and asked if he thought it'd survive a sledgehammer accidentally falling onto it at speed with force.

"Suffice to say, it didn't pass that test."

The pair of them – having finally proved to themselves that, yes, the pricey kit could indeed be destroyed – promptly burst into hysterics and shoved the broken unit into one of the bottom boxes.

"When it was spotted, we said it was like that when we opened the box – shattered, splintered and buggered," said Joe.

"The kit got sent away, and to this day, I don't think the very expensive purchase was ever deployed. Another example of MoD waste, which this time we felt we had a particular hand in!"

Have you ever been responsible for wasting taxpayers' cash and cared not a jot? What about destroying kit for shits 'n' giggles? El Reg would love to hear your confessional tales... not to worry, we keep every person's identity secret. ®


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