Today's unmanned aerial vehicles look like fighter aircraft, but the next generation of aircraft will more likely resemble brainy birds. By taking advantage of miniaturization, researchers and engineers are exploring ways to put the power of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection directly into the hands of warfighters. In the not-too-distant future, these systems will employ networking technologies to give commanders ubiquitous situational awareness.
The theoretical superiority of network-centric warfare in conventional combat was realized with the rapid U.S.-led coalition victory over Saddam Hussein's forces in Iraq. Coalition forces brought to bear the full power of megabits and gigabytes against regular, irregular and so-called elite forces of the Iraq military.
The next step in network-centric warfare will be the creation of networked sensing suites that tailor their observations to the adversary's rate of activity. These various sensors will concentrate on observing changes rather than on observing scenery.
Flush from recent combat success in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. Army officials are touting a new generation of sensors to help gain battlefield advantages while protecting soldiers from a wide range of threats. Robotic and unmanned sensors are being used to avoid placing soldiers-already operating under hazardous battlefield conditions-directly in harm's way, especially inside darkened enemy caves and tunnels.
The boom in battlespace surveillance and reconnaissance applications has triggered a search for new technologies that could both help and hinder network-centric warfighters. Many revolutionary sensor systems in the laboratory pipeline offer the potential of widening the supremacy gap that the U.S. military owns over potential adversaries. However, using them effectively will require new data fusion techniques, advanced security measures, enhanced training and education, and greater bandwidth capacities.
The first satellite of a long-awaited U.S. Defense Department surveillance and early warning system is back on track to orbit in less than three years. The spacecraft, with sophisticated infrared sensors to detect, track and analyze missiles in flight, is part of a new generation of highly capable spacecraft poised to form the core of the United States' future global surveillance and early warning architecture.
Space is the watchtower of modern nations, and reconnaissance and observation platforms are the sentries. Designed to support national and theater ballistic missile defense systems, the new satellites will enhance warfighters' global and regional situational awareness.