Unattended sensors in a future theater of operation detect enemy movements, identify and locate targets, and feed that information via unmanned aerial vehicle communications network nodes to the command center. Commanders collate their data with other information from space and U.S.-based sources, then signal unattended battlefield and airborne weapons to launch against enemy assets. These networked weapons keep track of battle damage and trade-off targets as they are destroyed.
Warfighters soon may be wearing clothing with built-in radio antennas and global positioning system receivers. These items would be embedded in uniforms and equipment harnesses laced with internal wiring and circuitry that connect personal communications devices, computers and power supplies to form a single network.
The U.S. Air Force is examining technology that would enhance a B-1B Lancer crew's situational awareness while in the air and simultaneously record data that can be shared with other mission commanders or used to train future aircrews. The capability would provide pilots with information about existing threats, which would allow them to execute appropriate threat avoidance maneuvers.
Several key impediments must be conquered if network-centric warfare is to achieve its potential for revolutionizing military operations. Long-standing concerns such as interoperability and cultural resistance are joined by issues of understanding human behavior and research and development investment. These elements threaten to slow or even derail efforts to incorporate the full advantages of network-centric warfare into U.S. forces by 2025.
The U.S. Army is deploying a transportable satellite broadcast management and uplink system that features greater bandwidth than traditional satellite systems, reduces transmission time and frees space on other tactical communications equipment.
Rapidly changing technology, along with the high demand for well-trained communicators to support current operations, is testing the limits of the U.S. Army's human resources and training facilities. To meet this challenge, the service is moving quickly to ensure that the people who keep communications up and running have the skills they need for the systems they will use.
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.
The U.S. Army is testing a new technology that will enable a seamless connection between the wireless world and the landline world by means of tactical radio networking. Through the use of an already proven network infrastructure, the addition of a centralized routing capability within a family of current-generation tactical field radios has provided access to multiple forms of connectivity that were previously unattainable in the field.
The rapidly transforming U.S. Army is developing an entire force of next-generation fighting systems around information technology capabilities. This force, which is being designed from the bottom up to suit the requirements of the 21st century, will incorporate a host of new technologies that will work in concert to achieve desired warfighting goals.
The long-sought dream of using lasers to defend against an enemy on a battlefield may be closer to realization, if recent tests in the New Mexico desert can be transitioned successfully into a tactical system. The U.S. Army is aiming to begin development next year of a prototype that would be ready in 2007 to defend against targets ranging from cruise missiles to incoming artillery shells.
The future infantry soldier, who already is looking at new personal armor and communications systems, also may be equipped with a multisensor system that can provide him with a range of spectral views that can be changed with the flip of a switch. Helmet-mounted sensors would comprise both infrared and image intensifiers, and rifle sights would provide multispectral capability. Information gleaned from these sensors would fuel network-centric operations.
Military leaders are developing a vision of the tactical operations future where adversaries will have to decide if they should send flesh and blood troops to fight nuts, bolts, circuits and sensors. The implications of this battlefield revolution are far-reaching, and initial technical capabilities exist today. Military experts agree that it is only a matter of time before nations send sophisticated machines to augment well-trained troops. They also assert that it is in the United States' best interest to be the leader in this inevitable transformation of combat.
In the near future, U.S. Army units will benefit from high-speed, high-capacity data networks that will connect every unit, from individual infantrymen to headquarters units. However, to realize this vision, hurdles such as managing mobile ad hoc networks and providing beyond-line-of-sight communications in a fluid combat environment must be addressed.
A major U.S. Defense Department research program is developing lightweight, miniaturized, low-power radios for dismounted infantry and support equipment. The program, which is part of an initiative to replace the current generation of military radios, has drawn competing design teams from across the defense industry.
Interoperability is a key issue in the move toward advanced software definable radio systems. Lessons learned from operation Desert Storm indicated a need for greater communications between the services during combat, necessitating the development of radios sharing common waveforms usable by all the services and that can be rapidly reprogrammed in the field.