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.
New versions of handheld tactical radios offer secure links, improved portability and the ability to function after being submerged in up to 20 meters (66 feet) of fresh or salt water. Special operations forces equipped with these radios can travel lighter and be in touch as soon as they get out of the water, instead of having to stop, unpack and hook up their radios.
The U.S. Air Force has demonstrated the ability to provide airborne joint surveillance target attack radar system operators with real-time video ground imagery from an unmanned aerial vehicle. The capability allows positive identification of targets, decreased reporting and response times for attacking critical targets, and reduced fratricide.
Unity and simplicity are moving to the Pentagon. After more than 50 years of accumulating individual communications technologies to meet information distribution needs, the military headquarters is following the lead of its individual services and is well on its way, on time and on budget, to creating a joint and integrated information technology system.
The role of imagery as a national intelligence asset could be on the cusp of a promising alternative future, or it could be about to dwindle significantly. Much depends on the choices that the imagery community makes over the next several years.
As satellite data volume swells and virtual environments appear on more desktops, knowledgeable commanders are making split-second decisions by relying on their experience. Soon they will have the support of smart systems replete with subject matter expert material that describes choices and their consequences.
The National Imagery and Mapping Agency is fielding a team of commercial companies to provide vital geospatial information services to military and civilian government customers. The goal is not only to rapidly obtain various products ranging from basic mapping to detailed geospatial imagery, but also to establish an extensive commercial base of geospatial information services and generate two-way technology transfer.
Continuously evolving visualization software now allows a host of commercial and military customers to tour a location in four dimensions without leaving the comfort of their desktop. Database and real-time imagery combined with user-friendly, dramatic formats enhance applications ranging from farmers assessing crops to the intelligence community viewing potential hot spots.
Improved complementary metal-oxide semiconductor imaging technology allows entire video cameras to be integrated on a single chip, promising decreases in the price, complexity and size of cameras. Until recently, the image quality produced by these types of cameras has been less than ideal; however, the advent of active-pixel chips indicates that advancements in this arena not only are on the way, but also have arrived and are increasing practical applications of the technology.
Many of the complex and often tediously precise tasks for computer and telecommunications planners and administrators can now be delegated to automation software designed to graphically represent architectures. The software eliminates many of the network maintenance frustrations by presenting information in a basic diagram with embedded data accessible in multiple levels beneath the illustrations.
Now that information service providers are rushing to provide global high-speed connectivity, differences of opinion have emerged about which type of protocol will best link diverse users. The potential for a dramatic shift in network methodology and the inability to predict what the future communications protocol of choice will be have left developers in a quandary.
The network urban landscape is under construction. And while T-1 lines and Ethernet may deliver the power, they are also becoming the lines of communication between cyberbuildings that host fully equipped accommodations for meetings, classes and seminars.
The Internet's promise of providing low-cost electronic commerce and information exchange in reality is bringing a whole new set of obstacles to corporations that are embracing these seemingly broad opportunities. These obstacles, apart from conventional logistics snags, involve rising costs, corporate intrigue and mushrooming marketing budgets.
The federal government and the military are pursuing parallel paths to implement information systems as they incorporate commercial off-the-shelf technologies. Their varying paces of implementation have resulted in a polyglot of capabilities that, while different, must still interoperate and evolve as new technologies emerge from commercial innovators.