While military combatants continue to fight the war against terrorism on the battlefield, U.S. government officials are stepping up work to protect the borders of cyberspace. Information infrastructure security is such a high priority that government agencies are now required to provide reports on risk assessments, system security needs and security plans before they receive program funding.
The newly independent U.S. Air Force Space Command is focusing on integrating exo-atmospheric operations with lower altitude activities, including ground campaigns. These operations in space, which range from communications to precision guiding of munitions, are becoming less of a separate warfighting aspect and more of a united element of high-technology network-centric warfare.
The newest U.S. combatant command, tasked with defending the homeland, is taking a military approach to using civilian assets. This does not involve discarding existing U.S. laws that mandate separation of military activity from local responsibilities. Rather, it involves organizing and coordinating threat protection and emergency response efforts to maximize available federal, state and local government resources. And, it may include placing the military command under civilian leadership.
The Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986 instigated much of the transformation that is taking place in the military services today. It set the stage for the coordinated efforts outlined in Joint Vision 2010 and Joint Vision 2020 and set the armed forces on the path to becoming fully joint in operation, organization and doctrine. From the standpoint of technology, it has influenced the way systems are developed, tested and deployed.
People and equipment rise to the occasion when military computer networks are attacked, according to evaluators at a recent U.S. Air Force exercise. A two-week event that tested experts on both native Air Force networks and a simulation range produced some surprises in the capabilities of humans and hardware.
Future commanders may have a clearer picture of their force locations, assets and personnel capabilities simply by tapping existing force databases in a form of one-stop shopping. A new system developed by the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, consolidates key information particular to lower ranking personnel in the field and presents it in usable form to strategic and tactical commanders.
The U.S. Navy is discovering that enhanced connectivity is only the tip of the iceberg known as the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet. Unlike the frozen mountain that sinks ships, however, this iceberg is empowering a range of innovations that were not even on the sea service's radar when the massive network was conceived.
Getting information into the right hands at the right time is fundamental to network-centric warfare, and the U.S. Marine Corps is doing just that with a new handheld device that will improve information sharing on the battlefield. Capitalizing on a commercial approach that keeps people connected, the service's ruggedized personal digital assistant will be used primarily by small unit leaders to communicate tactical data such as the location of land mines or enemy forces. Because communications occur through tapping a screen rather than talking on a radio, warfighters silently can relay more precise information.
While the U.S. military is diligently building network centricity into the battlespace, the federal government is constructing virtual bridges between agencies and citizens on the home front. Cyberspace is now a two-way street where information is driven to the public, and citizens steer through the bureaucratic maze. Considerable advances already have been made, and plans on the drawing board promise to increase home-delivery of government services.
An experimental communications system may provide future combat vehicle crews with access to high-bandwidth intelligence and command and control applications. Part of a larger U.S. Defense Department effort to improve troops' ability to receive and send data, this research program is developing technologies to open communications channels down to the most spectrum-starved tactical user.