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.