Internet access may soon be as close as the nearest electrical outlet. New power-line networking technology allows voice, data and video signals to travel through standard electrical lines, turning building or campus electrical grids into ready-made communications pathways. Connected by devices similar to modems that are plugged into wall sockets, computers and smart appliances can be linked together or to existing fiber optic lines without extensive installation costs.
Networking technology currently under development will allow users to monitor and operate sensors from a single, central, distant location. In tactical scenarios, this capability will reduce the need to send soldiers into the field to check or activate sensors. The system features an optional radio communication module that enables it to operate much like a wide area network, and ease of installation and portability make it a candidate for use in military training exercises.
The extended littoral battlespace is beginning to shrink as commanders acquire the capability to monitor force operations from greater distances in near-real and real time. Recent exercises held on and off the California coast demonstrated a number of different approaches to linking offshore commanders with onshore events.
While U.S. military forces retaliate against terrorists for the horrific World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the Bush administration also is organizing to help shield the nation's critical information infrastructure. The White House is establishing U.S. cybersecurity functions under a single individual. That person will function as the president's special adviser for cybersecurity, reporting directly to both the new cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security and the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The Bush administration's declaration of war on terrorism allows federal organizations such as the National Security Agency to expand their electronic intelligence-gathering practices. With initial deployment of U.S. forces to the Middle East, demand to locate hostile terrorist cells and their support mechanisms immediately is rising, both in the United States and overseas. In addition, what had been a gradually growing requirement for U.S. forces to conduct information operations, including computer network offense and defense, is now switching to fast forward.
Unattended sensors in a future theater of operation detect enemy movements, identify and locate targets, and feed that information via unmanned aerial vehicle communications network nodes to the command center. Commanders collate their data with other information from space and U.S.-based sources, then signal unattended battlefield and airborne weapons to launch against enemy assets. These networked weapons keep track of battle damage and trade-off targets as they are destroyed.
Warfighters soon may be wearing clothing with built-in radio antennas and global positioning system receivers. These items would be embedded in uniforms and equipment harnesses laced with internal wiring and circuitry that connect personal communications devices, computers and power supplies to form a single network.
The U.S. Air Force is examining technology that would enhance a B-1B Lancer crew's situational awareness while in the air and simultaneously record data that can be shared with other mission commanders or used to train future aircrews. The capability would provide pilots with information about existing threats, which would allow them to execute appropriate threat avoidance maneuvers.
Several key impediments must be conquered if network-centric warfare is to achieve its potential for revolutionizing military operations. Long-standing concerns such as interoperability and cultural resistance are joined by issues of understanding human behavior and research and development investment. These elements threaten to slow or even derail efforts to incorporate the full advantages of network-centric warfare into U.S. forces by 2025.