Today's threats to U.S. national security range from the bloody reality of terrorist suicide bombers who kill and maim individuals to weapons of mass destruction that potentially hold many thousands at risk. The U.S. information infrastructure is a vital element of U.S. national security, but the design and management of software render its terminals, nodes and networks demonstrably vulnerable to malicious manipulation.
The military may be moving toward the massive Global Information Grid, but interest also is growing in networks that feature lilliputian qualities. Research that began in the mid-1990s is starting to bear fruit in the form of networking nodes that are scarcely the size of a postage stamp. Sometimes referred to as "smart dust" or "motes," these miniature networking nodes can be integrated with a variety of sensors to then pass on the information that is gathered to the people who need it.
Researchers are developing shape-shifting robots that can climb obstacles, drop down cliffs and fit into tunnels. Small, individual modules link to form a system that can take a multitude of shapes to travel over varied terrain. Two distinctly different designs could allow military and first responder personnel to reach past obstructions into previously inaccessible areas while remaining at a safe distance.
Networking capabilities that increase situational awareness are moving down the chain of command and eliminating bottlenecks in data sharing. Work underway on the Pathfinder advanced concept technology demonstration aims at integrating capabilities so that information gathered by unmanned ground vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles and unattended ground sensors can be distributed within a mobile, self-forming, self-healing network. The system is designed for use by special operations and lightweight conventional forces in small team operations.
Future warfighting in the Asia-Pacific region likely will involve multinational coalitions of U.S. allies that already face difficulties operating together in a network-centric environment. New technologies may hold the key to achieving interoperability goals, but they also threaten to exacerbate the problem as the United States deploys systems faster than allies can keep up with them. And, lurking over all of these concerns is the need for multilevel security throughout the coalition environment.
Corporate membership is one of those topics that is not discussed very much, but it is vitally important to the health and vitality of AFCEA International. The association currently has about 1,000 corporate sponsors, and they range in size from one-person consulting practices to multibillion-dollar international corporations with more than 100,000 employees. These corporate members are active participants in most of AFCEA's many endeavors. They often sponsor activities at AFCEA International conferences as well as at events hosted by chapters, and they make up a large portion of the exhibitors at AFCEA exhibitions.
The defining force behind current and future threats is the technology-driven globalization that dominates societal trends. This worldwide sea change is both delineating and empowering various political and economic factions that, just a few years ago, would have had neither the desire nor the opportunity to act. Now, they are joining the ranks of known rogue nations that pose a significant threat to Western security and interests around the world.
As it empowers economies and societies worldwide, the technology revolution also is unwittingly empowering forces that could undo its gains and inflict considerable harm on its beneficiaries. New hardware and software capabilities are providing greater ammunition to information warriors, spies, criminals and digital vandals.
As the post-Cold-War period gives way to new challenges, the United States is confronting the prospect of biological and chemical weapons proliferation as the latest threat to prolonged peaceful international relations. In an effort to reprioritize its initiatives on the issue, the U.S. Defense Department has called on a smaller, more focused agency to help deal with the unrestricted development of weapons of mass destruction in areas that are important to U.S. national security.
The proliferation of new and diverse threats to U.S. interests has the intelligence community scrambling for scarce resources to maintain pace with newly emerging challenges. Traditional menaces such as the spread of weapons of mass destruction and organized terrorist groups have been complicated by emerging geopolitical changes and technologies. Keeping up with this dynamic threat picture has taxed the intelligence community and may require considerable funding increases and a reallocation of resources.