The U.S. military is incorporating technologies developed for low-cost projectile and long-range missile guidance into a variety of field artillery weapons. Results of recently conducted tests demonstrate that a fast acquisition global positioning system product and a tactical-grade inertial guidance system could perform as testers expected in battlefield environments while continuing to provide required accuracy. The costs of these technologies are potentially lower than current systems.
By the latter part of this decade, a fleet of wheeled robots now evolving toward autonomy may perform many of the tasks handled by today's front-line soldier. The U.S. Army is experimenting with a prototype of radio-operated vehicles capable of engaging in various kinds of reconnaissance and surveillance activities. Once fully integrated into the service, these unmanned units will enable the execution of important objectives while reducing the casualties and logistical complexities often associated with rapid reaction forces.
U.S. Army rapid deployment forces will field an advanced communications management system that will provide its units with a more efficient data conduit than is available with legacy equipment. The vehicle-mounted platform consists of mobile switches and routers that feature integrated commercial and government hardware and software designed to provide voice, video and data service in a tactical environment.
The next air combat operation may feature command and control as a distinct warfighting element. U.S. Air Force planners are working to move information processing and decision making directly into the flow of combat.
The information assets inherent in strategic connectivity may soon extend down to the individual soldier in the foxhole. Not only will combatants be able to provide their own slant on theater operations, they also may be able to tap the massive data resources of the entire U.S. Defense Department.
U.S. Army tank commanders now are looking up at information the same way fighter pilots do: through a helmet-mounted ocular. The head-up device allows tank crew members situated outside of the hatch to view the same information that is displayed on computers inside the tank. The equipment was introduced with troops in operation Iraqi Freedom.
Even the most vocal advocates of Bowman would accept that the program's lengthy history has led it to become a synonym for procurement delay. Nonetheless, Bowman's in-service date was declared in March when the first unit, the British Army's 12 Mechanized Brigade, successfully completed a formation-level operational field trial using two mechanized battle groups and a brigade headquarters.
Construction of a new tactical communications infrastructure is underway in Iraq that will support tens of thousands of troops and eventually benefit the Iraqi people as it is turned over for their use when the U.S. military leaves the country. With the help of commercial capabilities and industry expertise, the infrastructure will improve tactical operation coordination between multiple sites by increasing the speed at which information can be shared from kilobytes to megabytes.
A successful future U.S. Air Force tactical operation may end with both a bang and a whimper. Traditional munitions-based operations employing kinetic weapons increasingly are sharing the airspace with information-based nonkinetic measures. The result soon may be an air strike that neutralizes an adversary with only minor damage, if any, to enemy assets.
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.