A few weeks ago, there was a story on the evening news about a waitress in Texas whose son is a Marine stationed in Iraq. Although his unit could communicate with the higher echelons, its members were having difficulty communicating with each other while on the battlefield. He asked his mom to go to a local electronics store, buy a set of walkie-talkies and send them to him. She was happy to help the war effort, but what she didn't anticipate was the hit the equipment would be with her son's buddies who wanted walkie-talkies of their own.
Information technology is the key differentiator in operations in southwest Asia and the global war on terrorism, according to military leaders who spoke at TechNet International 2004. Each shared his or her individual perspective on how information systems are transforming the way the military is fighting today and will fight in the future. Speakers included key U.S. Defense Department and information technology leaders from each of the armed forces as well as the joint community.
Lessons learned from operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are influencing transformation efforts across the U.S. military. Speakers and panelists featured at Transformation TechNet 2004 emphasized that information technology tools enhanced mission effectiveness; however, much work remains to improve capabilities, concepts of operations, acquisition methods and force structure.
First responders from a number of organizations are now equipped with technology that allows them to coordinate their actions in an emergency using an interface that facilitates communications between incompatible devices. The interface enables one telephone and five different radio networks to interconnect by plugging in a telephone or radio handset from each network. The small, lightweight unit has been tested by the U.S. Air Force and currently is in use by the National Guard and several law enforcement groups.
The most impressive new large guided missile destroyers (DDGs) of China's Peoples Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, are the showcases of new operations and responsibilities beyond traditional coastal roles. The ships' new sensors, missiles and combat systems are mainly of Russian and Western origin. However, China now is faced with the challenge of operating and maintaining these advanced systems to create a credible threat to foreign navies in Far Eastern waters. This blue-water fleet primarily comprises ships that have been operational for years, but other more advanced ships are being built and may be deployed as soon as next year.
Interoperability with allied forces is a priority for Australia's military, and a program underway will deliver a multiphase, $600 million renewal of the Australian Defence Force's tactical communications systems. The program initially will rely on a bridging capability largely based on existing infrastructure that will be supplemented and ultimately replaced over at least the next decade in a series of phased improvements.
The U.S. Navy's Naval Sea Systems Command is adopting corporate acquisition strategies for buying services nationwide through the Web. A new e-commerce system that expands on a three-year-old model has designated more than 100 industry teams for procurements under a performance-based contracting process. This novel contracting approach also opens new opportunities for small businesses, including set-asides for primes and subcontractors.
An experimental Internet-based system could allow future warfighters to direct satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles and to acquire reconnaissance data and imagery immediately from tactical battlefield positions. The software-based technology treats space and air assets like Internet addresses, permitting remote users to request information from them or to monitor the status of platforms.
The U.S. government is growing concerned about a family of computer programs that can infiltrate and compromise system integrity. These programs attach to a host computer during Internet browsing and send data to a third party about how that machine is operated. Although most of this code is used for legitimate business or marketing purposes, many types can circumvent firewall protections, leading to security breaches.
The U.S. Defense Department and defense contractors are learning a lesson about security from the financial world. In a current government-industry project, authentication experts in both communities are examining how to create a cross-credentialing approach that will facilitate access to military, government and corporate facilities while at the same time boost security. The effort does not focus on issuing yet another security token but rather on establishing standard processes. These processes foster a level of trust that can be accepted between agencies and companies.
The future of the network may be wireless, but without security there can be no wireless network access for the military, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The department has issued a set of guidelines establishing policy for the use of commercial wireless technologies in the Global Information Grid, or GIG. The goal is to exploit the advantages of emerging wireless technologies without compromising the very core of the military's network-centric doctrine.
U.S. legislators are fighting to secure information systems on two fronts: the federal government and the private sector. And, they are worried that the government is underachieving badly at a most crucial time for information security.
A Web-based decision support system developed by private industry and university researchers allows government and military emergency responders to build situational awareness pictures of an unfolding crisis. The support tool taps data from diverse sources, translates it to a common database and presents it according to user needs.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, fresh from assuming a new name less than a year ago, is striving to meet several self-imposed goals to address shortcomings and to confront the challenges of 21st century network-centric warfare. On its to-do list are converting fully to digital products and services; pursuing an e-business model; and transforming its architecture. It also seeks to pursue advanced forms of geospatial intelligence, including electromagnetic spectrum, and to mature the ability to capitalize on airborne collection. And, the agency's leadership foresees a need for two new headquarters facilities to deal with burgeoning responsibilities and an increased terror threat.
Experts representing many areas of homeland security and defense shared their insights during three panel sessions at TechNet International 2004. Discussion topics varied from wireless device security to infrastructure protection to business continuity. Leaders from industry, government and the military agreed that information technology offers many benefits, but it also poses considerable security challenges.