The U.S. Army is tasked with a three-sided challenge as it seeks to transform its communications-electronics systems. The Army must continue to progress with far-reaching plans that will change the way it conducts military operations; it must respond to warfighters' urgent information technology needs in Afghanistan and Iraq; and it must incorporate changes inspired by lessons learned in those wars into its long-range efforts.
The U.S. Air Force has made tremendous strides in leveraging advances in information technology to improve its combat effectiveness. Today, precision targeting is the norm. Access to critical intelligence, mission status and resource availability information from around the globe is taken for granted. Airmen are using Internet "chat" to order parts and coordinate missions. Sophisticated information technologies embedded in air and space vehicles provide unprecedented and persistent situational awareness over areas of interest. On a recent visit to some of the U.S. bases in the Middle East, I was struck by the myriad of uses of information technology that have changed the face of modern warfare. The future holds the promise of more amazing benefits.
The Danish military is implementing a versatile software platform for its naval and land command and control systems that has proved to be an affordable means to support data fusion over legacy communications links. Featuring an open architecture, the platform provides generic command, control and communications functions and flexibility in subsystem integration. It is being installed on the country's new ships as well as being retrofitted onto existing vessels.
Battlefield medical personnel may soon use a handheld device to perform rapid triage on wounded soldiers by remotely sensing vital functions such as respiration and heart rate without exposing themselves to enemy fire. A radar emitter built into the unit detects the movement of a person's internal organs. With this equipment, medics can verify whether an individual is alive without removing body armor and equipment. More advanced versions of the system may permit medics to monitor the vital signs of up to 10 people simultaneously.
Research being conducted in the depths of the sea is revealing lessons in medicine that will help humankind in remote areas on Earth and allow future generations to travel to the far reaches of space. With capabilities provided by telecommunications, robotic and scuba equipment and an underwater habitat called Aquarius, space program personnel and medical doctors are examining the challenges of telemedicine in extreme environments. The information being gathered runs the gamut-from the unpredictable effects of the ambient atmosphere on devices to the need for improved human-machine interfaces to insights about the skills required to perform surgical procedures. And, while participants have their eyes on the skies, they readily attest that the lessons they learn undoubtedly can be applied in the battlefield to save not only lives but also limbs.
Soldiers in the Iraqi theater are receiving medical care from doctors thousands of miles away through telehealth programs and the use of the Internet and servers. Physicians using this capability can provide better continuity of care and better medical access, as well as reduce loss of duty time for soldiers deployed in Iraq. In addition, the telemedicine systems implemented in Iraq throughout 2004 and into 2005 have aided not only the soldiers receiving the care but also the doctors providing it. The technology not only keeps them safe from traveling through hostile environments but also allows more collaboration between other doctors in theater.
On the battlefield of the future, a U.S. Army soldier is hit by shrapnel from an artillery round and is rendered unconscious with internal injuries to his torso. He is alone and no one witnesses his injury, but the intelligent agents in his automated self-monitoring system detect that he is in crisis, and the system transmits a signal to a regional command center. Officers at the command center dispatch an unmanned rescue vehicle, which enters the live-fire zone and deploys small robots to collect him carefully for removal from the hot zone.
Combatants in the war on terrorism come in all shapes and sizes, including some that are nuts and bolts, metal and machinery. In operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, warfighters count not only on their buddies to keep them safe but also on luggage-size robots that help clear the improvised explosive devices being used so incessantly by insurgents. Using manportable mechanical marvels, explosive ordnance disposal teams can disarm or detonate explosives from a distance, keeping team members out of harm's way while clearing the way for troop movement.
With updated cabling and server farms in place, the U.S. Navy is making way on a government-owned, government-operated information technology initiative that ultimately will affect more than 41,000 users in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. During the coming months, sailors stationed at bases outside the continental United States, beyond the scope of the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet, will be coming aboard their own enterprisewide network.
A communications interface system soon may enhance the situational awareness and connectivity of U.S. Marine Corps units. The equipment consists of vehicle-mounted racks housing an interchangeable set of tactical radios, routers and configuration software that allows commanders to quickly select, change and modify their tactical data networks for specific missions. By linking a variety of radio systems into a single network, the technology permits units with previously incompatible radio systems to communicate with each other.
Setting up and maintaining a communications network in a war zone is difficult under any circumstances, but it is especially complicated in a battlespace without defined front lines. To meet this challenge, the U.S. Army is combining military systems and commercial solutions to establish a reliable network for commanders and warfighters in operation Iraqi Freedom.
Feedback from ongoing U.S. military operations in Southwest Asia is enhancing a key fire control and battle management system. Designed to help track friendly units and direct available artillery and air platforms against enemy forces, this software-based application is an important command and control asset and a major component for upcoming programs such as the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS).
Disposable sensors, a single radar set that performs several tasks and electrical power devices that refuel from a diesel truck's gas tank are just some of the innovations that may reshape U.S. Army operations on the battlefield of the future. This research is altering the vision of the transformational force even as ongoing programs pick up speed, and it promises new and exciting capabilities to further extend the Army's battlefield supremacy.
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.