As they become interconnected through the evolution of network-centric warfare, military forces are discovering the increasingly indispensable nature of geospatial information systems, or GIS. At many levels, mission planning now relies on GIS products to ensure success and reduce losses during potentially hazardous actions. Even the civil government and commercial worlds are incorporating these emerging technologies into their everyday operations. While all this activity ensures a continued flow of innovation into the GIS wellspring, new and considerable investments must be made now to ensure that GIS continues to meet user needs in the foreseeable future.
Tradition permeates AFCEA International. Our roots are in the military, an organization that many affectionately refer to as "family." And our heritage also stems from the government-the cornerstone of every country. Intertwining these two entities is industry that supports them, provides for them and depends on them. As we look toward the beginning of a new century, information technology has become the common language between these three organizations, and AFCEA has evolved into the conduit for communication.
In government, industry, the military and society as a whole, technology reigns. Change is coming faster than words can be written to describe it. In virtually every corner of the world, information systems are remaking governments, re-engineering economies, restructuring militaries and redefining societies. Not even the industrial revolution had as far-reaching an effect when it sprang upon the world less than two centuries ago.
If knowledge is power and information is a force multiplier, then security is the key to defense and commercial supremacy in the information age. Any kind of strength, whether military or economic, represents a target for adversaries or competitors. Information, however, is to modern civilization what fire was at the dawn of humankind: an unlimited asset that, if not controlled, quickly can be turned against its user.
The fast pace of change occurring in technology and business today has prompted industry and government agencies to explore innovative approaches to conducting business. While old paradigms are not being discarded, they are being reviewed to determine their effectiveness. Organizations that are willing to venture into uncharted waters are encountering successes and obstacles, but regardless of the outcome, they have learned lessons that both they and others can incorporate into future endeavors.
The military information revolution has been underway for many years now, but its outcome remains far from clear. Advances in communications and computing are teaming with promising materials developments to reshape the defense environment for decades to come. However, the defense community may be starting to suffer an Alvin Toffler-style "future shock" as it tries to embrace too many technology-enabled opportunities. It is absolutely vital that defense planners focus on their goals for the military and plan accordingly, rather than merely design future forces around new or anticipated technologies.
The vast Asia-Pacific region, rife with emerging democracies and revitalized economies, must turn its attention to establishing a viable security framework. Greater economic interdependence and the benefits of the information revolution present that region with both opportunities for growth and threats of destabilizing unrest.
The U.S. intelligence community must take the initiative in developing a broad, cohesive plan for national intelligence. This effort must encompass specific funding requirements, new sensor and collection systems, information architectures and centralized authority over the intelligence community.
Never before has the potential for significant sociological change resided so strongly-and so clearly-in the hands of technologists. Computers already are redefining virtually every aspect of human existence. The onset of the year 2000, along with Y2K computer bug concerns, caused many users to reflect on the importance of these information machines in their lives. In addition to streamlining many duties and opening up new applications, the ongoing evolution of computers also is changing the way that businesses, governments and their militaries interact with the people they serve.
The future of telecommunications is being shaped by new usage trends driven by emerging technologies. These trends long have molded both military and civilian requirements.
Until recently, battlefield information systems were viewed merely as enablers to conventional military operations. Only a decade ago, their buzzwords were "force multiplier." Since the Gulf War, which demonstrated the value of Western high-technology supremacy, information systems have steadily increased in importance, shedding their supporting roles for leads in the growing variety of military operations.
No one could possibly question the logic of using scarce U.S. Defense Department resources to fully fund the ongoing war on terrorism. If we can spend an extra dollar to prevent one of our military people from being injured in Afghanistan or Iraq, then certainly we should do that.
For more than five decades, AFCEA has been proud to provide an ethical forum in which military, government and industry personnel can meet, exchange ideas and work toward solutions. The focus has always been on electronic communications avenues, and the association has endeavored not only to keep pace with the changes in technology and policy but also to stay well ahead of them. This is the benefit of membership. From algorithms to networking, experts have turned to AFCEA to help them share their discoveries and meet their challenges.
The information age that is defining our entry into a new millennium is being driven by the rapid development of technology, and that development in turn is being driven by research. Both government and industry are reaping the benefits of this windfall in electronics. However, both must not forget the importance of continuing to pursue scientific advances that will fuel and sustain this technology boom. And, both sectors must also coordinate their efforts to ensure that government needs are met through purposeful research.
When talk turns to providing a comprehensive picture of the battlefield, people often overlook the fact that the defense community is not providing a good enough picture down to the battalion level, much less to the company level. These warfighting levels especially need an accurate and actionable picture of where enemy forces are located. But, even as we head into the promised land of network-centric operations, the muddy-boots warfighters are not receiving the information they desperately need to prevail on the battlefield.
TechNet International 2000, which was held June 20 through June 22 at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center, represented an event in transition. For this year's event, AFCEA International's 54th annual convention and exposition, we chose to return to our Defense Department core specialties. At the same time, we introduced a number of exciting new features that produced favorable results and bode well for the future.
AFCEA long has been an international organization moreso than by the mailing addresses of some of its members. Just as successive U.S. administrations recognized the inexorable strategic link between North American democracies and their counterparts across the Atlantic Ocean, so too did AFCEA's leadership. The establishment of the AFCEA Europe office in Brussels, Belgium, in 1980, site of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters, emphasized this importance. During the Cold War, the trans-Atlantic AFCEA link helped provide a valuable two-way dialog for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) experts tasked with deterring aggression and maintaining the peace of nearly a half-century.
There is no doubt that the United States has good intelligence capabilities. Our network-centric approach to warfare fits perfectly with intelligence collection and dissemination. Our collection assets are the best in the world. Expert analysts have proved their worth with decades of vital discoveries that helped stave off potential disasters during the Cold War. Yet, intelligence community leadership is faced with some important decisions to ensure its vitality and effectiveness in the coming decades.
Information is the Swiss Army Knife of the tactical warfighter. It is a multifaceted tool that can be applied to a wide range of functions, many of which have unintended benefits. It is rapidly migrating from a warfighter's helper to a more central role in military operations. In this era of network-centric warfare, information is a weapon, and its enabling hardware are becoming weapon systems.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, changed Free World society forever. The terrorist slaughter brought home the concept that no oceans, no mountains, no national borders will deter evildoers from attacking innocents around the globe.