While blazing a trail on the frontier of paperless contracting, the U.S. Defense Department is discovering that a new set of opportunities and challenges emerges from change in the workplace. As in any formidable military operation, its leaders are striving to complete the mission successfully, while gathering information to share with others who are sure to follow the path to more efficient business practices.
The military information revolution has been underway for many years now, but its outcome remains far from clear. Advances in communications and computing are teaming with promising materials developments to reshape the defense environment for decades to come. However, the defense community may be starting to suffer an Alvin Toffler-style "future shock" as it tries to embrace too many technology-enabled opportunities. It is absolutely vital that defense planners focus on their goals for the military and plan accordingly, rather than merely design future forces around new or anticipated technologies.
Communications, computer and material technologies will deeply impact future military and peacekeeping missions by empowering warfighters at every conceivable command level. Smart computers will sift through mounds of data to deliver knowledge directly to a combatant who is clothed in a modern-day suit of armor. Today's scientists predict that a combination of imagination and analytical work conducted at the end of this century will lead to 21st century warfighters who respond quickly and accurately to defeat enemies.
Eyeglasses with directional microphones that enhance hearing, polymeric lattices that heal broken bones, and databases that scan weather information to predict earthquakes are just a hint of government-developed technologies that could drastically alter life in the next century. From cars and airplanes to personal computers and lasers in common household products, technological advancement in America has evolved dramatically in the past 100 years and will occur twice as rapidly throughout the next 50 years, scientists predict.
Rapidly evolving communications techniques are leading scientists to integrate technology trends and human methods of thinking to solve problems that are yet to be encountered.
The military information revolution came of age during the Kosovo operation as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pushed the edge of the technology envelope. Commanders and warfighters found new capabilities that allowed them to take full advantage of precision-guided munitions, flexible surveillance and reconnaissance assets, and real-time situational awareness that reached across the full spectrum of participants.
A tactical datalink management system is making the United Kingdom's armed forces more compatible with its U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners. The groundstation-based platform facilitates setting up and monitoring communications networks between air assets. A mobile variant of the equipment will enter service with British expeditionary forces early in the coming decade.
The U.S. military is incorporating technologies developed for low-cost projectile and long-range missile guidance into a variety of field artillery weapons. Results of recently conducted tests demonstrate that a fast acquisition global positioning system product and a tactical-grade inertial guidance system could perform as testers expected in battlefield environments while continuing to provide required accuracy. The costs of these technologies are potentially lower than current systems.
The United Kingdom is turning to the aerospace industry, the telecommunications sector and the banking community to establish a new web of military communications satellites based on commercial technologies. Under a novel acquisition approach, the Ministry of Defence is seeking a contractor that will be a service provider rather than a hardware deliverer.
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are developing an architecture to eliminate threats to thin-client computer networks. These networks rely on applications servers to drive desktop workstations. Coupling security elements that will evolve from their work with commercial technology, the scientists hope to create a computing environment that offers increased flexibility and accessibility for network users without compromising security.