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 U.S. government is focusing on contingency planning to deal with potential malfunctions that could threaten operations at the onset of 2000. Agencies have been tasked with developing business continuity and contingency plans, many of which were tested this fall for year 2000 durability. Even organizations that are believed to be 100 percent compliant are establishing procedures to ensure that their core business procedures are not halted unexpectedly. This includes creating backup plans and determining key decision makers in the event of an operation shutdown.
In less time than it takes rescue teams to save victims from life-threatening disasters, commercial engineers can deploy a communications network to fulfill operational needs in a crisis. The networks allow disaster relief organizations, commercial entities or the military to establish a communications chain in remote or devastated areas around the world and link decision makers to emergency response crews or operations commanders to field units. One telephone call to an operations center alerts a team of industry technicians who are immediately on their way to an incident site and can establish a communications network within an hour of their arrival.
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are developing an architecture to eliminate threats to thin-client computer networks. These networks rely on applications servers to drive desktop workstations. Coupling security elements that will evolve from their work with commercial technology, the scientists hope to create a computing environment that offers increased flexibility and accessibility for network users without compromising security.
The United Kingdom is turning to the aerospace industry, the telecommunications sector and the banking community to establish a new web of military communications satellites based on commercial technologies. Under a novel acquisition approach, the Ministry of Defence is seeking a contractor that will be a service provider rather than a hardware deliverer.
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.
A tactical datalink management system is making the United Kingdom's armed forces more compatible with its U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners. The groundstation-based platform facilitates setting up and monitoring communications networks between air assets. A mobile variant of the equipment will enter service with British expeditionary forces early in the coming decade.
The military information revolution came of age during the Kosovo operation as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pushed the edge of the technology envelope. Commanders and warfighters found new capabilities that allowed them to take full advantage of precision-guided munitions, flexible surveillance and reconnaissance assets, and real-time situational awareness that reached across the full spectrum of participants.
Rapidly evolving communications techniques are leading scientists to integrate technology trends and human methods of thinking to solve problems that are yet to be encountered.
Eyeglasses with directional microphones that enhance hearing, polymeric lattices that heal broken bones, and databases that scan weather information to predict earthquakes are just a hint of government-developed technologies that could drastically alter life in the next century. From cars and airplanes to personal computers and lasers in common household products, technological advancement in America has evolved dramatically in the past 100 years and will occur twice as rapidly throughout the next 50 years, scientists predict.
Communications, computer and material technologies will deeply impact future military and peacekeeping missions by empowering warfighters at every conceivable command level. Smart computers will sift through mounds of data to deliver knowledge directly to a combatant who is clothed in a modern-day suit of armor. Today's scientists predict that a combination of imagination and analytical work conducted at the end of this century will lead to 21st century warfighters who respond quickly and accurately to defeat enemies.
The National Security Agency is spearheading a U.S. Defense Department effort to develop, with commercial assistance, joint tactical signals intelligence systems. The agency has formed a steering group to shape an architecture for generating standards around which industry will design and build the next generation of tactical signals intelligence systems.