Just one year after the Defense Department launched its Defense Reform Initiative, information technology is proving to be a vital player in this effort to bring the department into the next millennium. The U.S. military's increasing reliance on information systems for operations and support has opened the door for the commercial sector both to enable change and to benefit from it.
A simulation tool that creates a virtual satellite allows ground personnel to rehearse satellite communications and operations disciplines without tying up valuable orbiters. The new system enables warfighters to train on, assess and certify orbital communications links without interrupting ongoing satellite operations.
New very high frequency radios are sharing the airwaves with sensor systems in battlefield networking. Both communications and radar units have become portable enough that they now are mobile nodes in an interlocking information web.
Two new types of flat screen displays are now being used in rugged military and commercial applications. The first type, which was designed for use on U.S. Army field generators, is an intelligent display screen that employs an innovative "transflective" design. This allows information to be easily read in both bright sunlight and darkness while requiring unusually low power inputs to operate.
Maintaining air supremacy soon may be easier for U.S. fighter pilots equipped with the latest helmet technology. Head-tracking display screens are being designed to allow target designation with little more than a pilot's nod. The introduction at the end of the 1980s of the Soviet AA-11 Archer air-to-air missile revealed a serious deficiency in U.S. capabilities. That deficiency took on increasingly ominous significance as Russian-built aircraft and air-launched weapons, integrated with helmet-mounted sights and capable of being launched at up to 90 degrees off boresight of a target, proliferated widely to governments hostile to the United States. The problem is now being addressed in a joint U.S. Navy-U.S. Air Force effort, which combines the AIM-9X missile, an advanced short-range dogfight weapon with a targeting device that can aim sensors and weapons wherever a pilot looks.
Touch-screen technologies based on surface waves and improved resistive screen systems promise to increase touch-display durability, making these devices more useful for both military and general public applications. Although several current offerings provide users with the convenience of entering mouse-free computer commands, many have drawbacks that have limited their consistent, effective use. Two new approaches address these problems, offering additional options to current users and opening up potential applications in a variety of markets.
Technology advances have transformed a longstanding U.S. Army radio system into a new device that barely resembles its progenitor. Features such as position location and tactical internet access promise to change the way Army forces operate on the battlefield, and other improvements in the pipeline may change the nature of the communication system.
The introduction of the euro is expected to give a significant boost to the already healthy expansion of electronic commerce throughout Europe. The priorities of governments and regulatory bodies on the continent, however, will continue to be concentrated on eliminating obstructions to emerging opportunities and establishing a predictable legal framework that will apply to all members of the European Union.
Professors and students at the Center for Research in Electronic Commerce at the University of Texas at Austin are helping government and industry understand how business practices should adapt to the electronic age. By exploring the dynamics of the digital marketplace, center participants are gathering and providing knowledge about one of the world's most rapidly growing business arenas. Their goal is to determine where the world of electronic commerce is headed and how best to arrive there.
One of the world's largest automobile manufacturers has a goal-to operate in a paperless environment with its suppliers by the year 2000. A web-based tool, which also speeds response times to customers' requests, is bringing the company closer to that objective.
The Defense Department is melding the expertise of the business and technology worlds to embrace electronic commerce as its primary means of transaction. To enable the services and defense agencies to conduct business with private industry more efficiently, the department is working with its contractors to adapt their own best practices and technologies to military requirements.
Semiconductor designers are increasing their dependence on computer-aided design and testing to advance microcircuitry beyond the current state of the art. Demand for more and more complex chips has necessitated taking design out of the hands of engineers and into the realm of cyberspace.