The force transformation that is sweeping the U.S. military is an integral part of the global war on terrorism. Rather than being a hindrance to the 18-month-old war, this transformation may be necessary for U.S. forces to prevail both at home and abroad. The transformation is not merely about technology, however. Cultural and organizational concepts must be changed, and all of the services and the Congress must develop new ways of funding and enacting defense changes.
Emerging technologies and new strategies may result in as much as a tenfold increase in the U.S. military's operations planning capabilities. In what has been touted as the largest military experiment in history, participants analyzed how the armed forces will fight in the future and what tools they will need to wage war more effectively. Although many of the systems and concepts are aimed at a 2007 battlespace, several of them may bring more immediate benefits for warfighters.
Unmanned aerial vehicles the size of model airplanes, ruggedized minicomputers that automate calls for air support and remotely controlled rifled mortar capabilities will change the way the U.S. Marine Corps fights on future battlefields. Armed with information they can safely gather about what lurks over the next hill, front-line troops will be able to send accurate data to pilots and commanders so they can respond expeditiously with appropriate fire support.
If there is one issue that has been a common thread throughout the spread of military information systems over the past few decades, it is interoperability. What once was a nuisance quickly grew into a major challenge as we became more reliant on information technology to prevail in the way we fight. What once was a marginal issue grew to dominate command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) as a key requirement for all future systems. Yet, as interoperability continues to increase in importance, as a goal it remains stubbornly elusive.
Network-centric warfare proved to be a key enabler for U.S. special operations forces to rout the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to a general in the U.S. Special Operations Command. These forces were empowered by shared situational awareness and robust communications that allowed them to maximize the effects of air and naval support against Taliban positions.
Future commanders may benefit from an enhanced situational awareness and battlefield management system that fuses sensor and information feeds to create a coherent picture of an engagement. The system will permit data to be relayed, shared and analyzed by allied joint forces across multiple echelons.
By co-locating its intelligence and operations communities under one high-technology roof, the U.S. Marine Corps I Marine Expeditionary Force can now manage multiple missions from a single command center. Systems at the facility allow decision makers to review and analyze information pouring in from tactical network sensors and help the Marines plan and execute military operations, ensure base security and support localized efforts such as fighting forest fires.
Emergency responders now can count on priority cellular access in a pinch as the U.S. government establishes a wireless version of its Government Emergency Telecommunications Service. Known as the Wireless Priority System, or WPS, the new cellular system promises connectivity in a shirt pocket for authorized users ranging from the president down to a local fire chief.
Manufacturers are poised to release new equipment that will permit universal roaming for cellular telephone and mobile devices. Recent processor and software developments are leading to products that can operate across different global communications protocols.
Having effective sensors, fire control, ordnance and control systems is only part of the picture for building a capable shipboard combat system. The task that makes all of these play together is called combat system integration, or CSI.