An innovative communication capability born from an urgent operational need is generating a cascading effect on many sectors of the U.S. Air Force. This technology provides beyond-line-of-sight secret Internet protocol router network, text messaging and telephone access eight times faster than the legacy capability it replaces. It is changing the way the service’s 116th Computer Systems Squadron does business—including direct interaction with the aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force literally is restructuring its command and control on the fly to modernize its gear and adapt to new mission sets. This thrust entails replacing heavily used legacy equipment and building a new information architecture to serve the demands of dynamic modern warfare.
Cyberspace is the latest realm that the U.S. Defense Department is seeking to dominate in its efforts to protect national security and to project force. But this goal has not gone unchallenged as hackers from a variety of nations and criminal and terrorist organizations have tried to penetrate government networks to steal information or cause damage.
Protecting space-based assets is now the top priority for the U.S. Air Force Space Command, according to its commander. With the military’s reliance on network centricity well established, communications and situational awareness satellites have increased in significance to military operations—and to potential adversaries seeking to counter Western goals without confronting superior allied forces directly. And, the private sector is equally dependent on the many capabilities inherent in orbital platforms.
The next new aircraft to roll out of the U.S. Air Force hangar may be a powered sensor. Scientists at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, have developed radar arrays that can serve as aircraft skin and as structural components. Their research is opening up entirely new radar capabilities as well as materials advances.
The U.S. Air Force is taking a holistic approach to its information technology upgrades. In addition to networking information, the Air Force is networking its programs to improve interoperability and efficiency.
The U.S. Air Force is claiming the virtual high ground. The service recently stood up a task force to study and define exactly what cyberspace means in relation to military operations. This group, part of an ongoing effort to reap the maximum benefits in force transformation, is developing recommendations that will help reshape doctrine, tactics and mission areas for years to come.
Convergence is taking place in the military for more than voice, video and data these days. The U.S. Air Force's new Network Operations Command and the redesignation of the 67th Information Operations Wing as the 67th Network Warfare Wing set into motion significant changes intended to improve network command and control and situational awareness as well as the synergy between network warfare disciplines. As the service implements the evolutionary strides of this reformation, information technology will become an even more integral part of a U.S. military global strike capability, one that transcends geographic areas of responsibility and that effectively reaches into the realm of cyberspace.
U.S. military aircraft may one day mimic the Hollywood special effects of Batman Begins with wings that change from pliable to rigid and back again or that expand and contract on demand. Two approaches for morphing aircraft structures are being considered that would give the armed forces the ability to use the same airplane in multiple roles, from slow-flying reconnaissance missions to high-speed target takedowns. Several enabling technologies are facilitating the development of this capability; however, determining how such aircraft would meet military requirements still remains to be done.
Pilots flying the new F-35 strike fighter may be forgiven if they begin to believe that their aircraft is disappearing around them: Its sensor suite, situational awareness and human-machine interface are so advanced that the pilot will have instantaneous knowledge of everything around him or her-in all directions. In an aircraft with displays that resemble video games more than conventional cockpits, pilots will have a greater variety of situational awareness information and more capabilities to act on that information than available on any other aircraft currently flying.