After several years of depressed revenues, the telecommunications industry is poised to recover in 2005, experts say. Rebounding from the historic lows of the past several years, the equipment manufacturing sector can expect robust growth while gains for services will remain modest. But storm clouds loom on the horizon as emerging technologies such as broadband and voice over Internet protocol threaten to radically change traditional service carrier arrangements.
A former niche technology will greatly improve how military and commercial organizations stock and track supplies and products. The system permits the identification of equipment fitted with radio frequency devices known as tags. This capability allows quartermasters to know a cargo container's contents immediately as it enters a theater of operation. Inventory information can then be fed into a database to follow incoming parts and equipment shipments, allowing commanders to react quickly to demand spikes.
Data identification is emerging as the primary challenge facing network-centric warfare. Many elements of network-centric operations have been field-tested in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and user feedback is giving U.S. Defense Department planners insight into capabilities and drawbacks. These lessons learned span both technological and cultural issues, and defense experts are adapting their efforts to deal with both disciplines.
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.