A great deal has been written about how information technologies represent a new industrial revolution, and many of the changes of that revolution have reached into virtually every corner of our lives. Yet, that two-decade-old transformation is now being changed by a revolution emerging from within: the advent of ubiquitous wireless connectivity.
A recently adopted international standard protects military radar and scientific satellite transmissions against potential interference from wireless local area networks. It provides a toolkit and guidelines for manufacturers to modify their products to switch automatically to alternate channels when these signals are detected.
An advanced wireless communications system soon will allow military and civilian users to access spectrum more efficiently than does current equipment. Radios using this spectrum allocation technology will sense their local electromagnetic environment and transmit messages through available areas of spectrum. Designed for global use, these intelligent devices will store nations' spectrum protocols on microchips for automatic, seamless operation without the need for lengthy frequency allocation negotiations.
At the end of this decade, warfighters will begin using an advanced satellite system to maintain on-the-move connectivity with small handheld and vehicle-mounted radios. The planned constellation will provide U.S. military and civilian government agencies with a mobile communications capability that currently is not available. New waveforms and algorithms will permit cellular telephone-size devices to receive signals through dense jungle canopies and bad weather.
As with the weather, the ongoing rollout of the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet is sometimes sunshine and sometimes storms. Now entering its fourth year of work, the program has experienced smooth sailing and unexpected squalls in its adaptation of commercial processes. Despite some grumbling in the ranks and the underestimation of the magnitude of issues such as legacy applications, the U.S. Navy not only is making steady progress but also is discovering unforeseen benefits from its decision to tackle information technology acquisition in an innovative way.
Decisions that the U.S. Navy makes in key areas during the next several years could shape not only the sea service itself, but also the way U.S. and foreign militaries fight in the future. Ships and aircraft under development, next-generation weaponry, unmanned systems and joint concepts are among the issues that experts believe the Department of the Navy must address today so that alternative strategies can be analyzed well in advance of the need to take action.
The dot-com bubble may have burst, but the U.S. Navy is still in the market for entrepreneurs with promising innovations. It has revamped an office within the Office of Naval Research to seek out solutions then move them rapidly to the fleet. As the Navy sees it, this is a win-win proposition. Warfighters get cutting-edge tools that meet their requirements, and companies have the opportunity to get a piece of a $28 billion pie-the service's acquisition budget.
Diverse businesses from technology developers to hotels are capitalizing on the public's compulsion to stay in touch. Until recently, technology that allows laptop owners to access networks wirelessly was viewed as a nonessential add-on. But today, companies and consumers recognize the benefits of mobile computing, and technology providers are meeting the new demand with equipment that makes notebook computers ready for surfing right out of the box.
A new policy that directs government organizations to expand the use of U.S. commercial remote sensing technology is opening the eyes of government and industry to potential partnerships. Government entities that had not used remote sensing before are discovering applications that may become integral to their way of doing business in a few years. Concurrently, commercial satellite imagery providers are finding unexplored market possibilities. This growing synergy ultimately may lead to civil government input on the design and development of future remote sensing platforms.
The U.S. Navy has achieved milestone developments in free electron laser technology that may lead the way to shipboard lasers defending fleets from attacking aircraft and cruise missiles. Recent demonstrations have generated 1-kilowatt low-frequency beams, and scientists are on the brink of attaining 10-kilowatt laser beams.