"Greg, what you are about to do is . . . change how we fight," Wynne recalls saying.
In early 2005, there were 183 Rover units in the field. There are now 1,500 of the 12-pound kits in use mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the service has ordered 2,200 more. So far, the Air Force has spent about $72 million on the Rover.
Still, Air Force officers think the Rover should be as common as a radio. To fully equip active-duty military units, the National Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. would need 16,544 Rover kits, an Air Force study found.
Wynne and Harbin are also pushing development of the next generation of Rover -- Rover IV, or what airmen call "the John Madden version": The operator can draw on the screen and a pilot can see the notation, just as television football commentator Madden draws lines during replays. The new version, which costs about $90,000, nearly three times the cost of the current model, is due to go into the field in February.
Air Force officers have no illusions that the Rover technology will single-handedly change the course of the war in Iraq. But it has increased the accuracy of bombs: In 2003, "danger close" -- the minimum distance away from U.S. forces a bomb could be dropped -- was 2,000 meters or about 18 football fields. Today, thanks to smaller bombs and the improved accuracy the Rover system allows, it is 75 meters, less than one football field. Harbin says equipping helicopters with Rover technology could help pilots avoid insurgents armed with shoulder-fired missiles. And the Rover system helps units minimize accidental civilian deaths.
This spring, Harbin was sent to Afghanistan to show NATO forces fighting the Taliban how to use the Rover.
In May, a Canadian army regiment got a call from someone in a village near Kandahar. A group of Taliban had killed two women in the town. Harbin and his NATO team used the Rover to help track the Taliban fighters. They told a NATO fighter plane to hold off as the fighters moved through the alleyways of the village. When the fighters stepped on a road, Harbin's team called in the strike. A 500-pound bomb from the NATO plane killed five fighters. One Taliban fighter escaped, but Harbin tracked him on the Rover, and called for the Predator to launch a Hellfire missile.
As the missile neared the target, Harbin noticed a second "heat signature" on the Rover screen and called for a course correction. The Hellfire struck the fighter, but spared the first target indicated on the Rover, which turned out to be a dog.
"We found them, tracked them, then picked the time and the place to strike in order to minimize collateral damage," Harbin said. "We were so precise that the dog got away."
Now, back from Afghanistan, Harbin walks the halls of the Pentagon, carrying his Rover laptop in a backpack. He darts from office to office, using videos to sell the system to decision-makers from every service.
Among top Air Force officials, there is little doubt that without Harbin, the Rover might have remained a niche technology used by only a few.
"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."
Sitting in a Pentagon cafeteria lined with vending machines, his Rover at his feet, Harbin paused between meetings to consider what he had achieved.
"When you believe in something, you can't just talk about it and make PowerPoint slides. You have to go out to the battlefield and show how it works," he said. "I knew it would be useful. I didn't know it would change the way we fight."