The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) information technology environment is rapidly evolving and maturing, all to the benefit of the warfighter. Most of these changes are directly related to contributions from both the services and the joint command, control, communications and computers community. Today, we are applying technologies in a way that allows us to enjoy the advantages of the network-centric operational environment concept envisioned for tomorrow. This dynamic pace of change among applications, supporting infrastructure and mode of communication presents us with both opportunities and challenges.
Transformation will be essential to NATO's new missions in the post-Cold-War global war on terror, according to the alliance's leadership. And, as in the United States, government and industry will need to partner to achieve the individual goals that must be reached for that transformation to succeed.
An advanced microelectronics technology may allow future communications equipment to receive and process multiple high frequency waveforms easily. Relying on superconducting processors in a sealed refrigerated container, the system translates analog radio signals directly to digital information, preventing the data and efficiency losses found in semiconductor-based applications. Unconstrained by performance-limiting issues such as thermal interference, the frigid superconducting chips permit prototype devices to receive, sample and transmit gigahertz-range signals across much of the military's spectrum.
U.S. warfighters soon may power their battlefield electronics with a lightweight water-based fuel cell system. Consisting of thin metal alloy plates soaking in salt water, the technology allows soldiers to replace heavy disposable batteries with lightweight rechargeable ones. Because the devices have no moving parts and are made of readily available materials, they may provide troops with a simple and robust reserve or primary power supply.
Calling a help desk when the computer refuses to boot up or when e-mail is blocked can be a frustrating experience. But with the help of industry, U.S. Air Force communications personnel in the Asia-Pacific region have taken steps to alleviate some of the aggravation. By employing commercial best practices and standardizing processes, the directorate in charge of ensuring that warfighters can connect is now more efficiently and effectively employing its resources. As a result, it expects to reduce the time needed to resolve technical issues by 20 percent.
In what has proved to be a timely and prescient move, the Guam Army National Guard recently upgraded its communication system both to handle expanded mission demands and to be resistant to constant battering by typhoons. The Guard now has an Internet protocol (IP)-based system built around commercial technology and designed to survive storm elements that used to crash the Guard's old system regularly.
Accredited, tested solutions could allow military decision makers and intelligence analysts to access information and make decisions simultaneously using information that resides in multiple security classifications. However, although the U.S. Defense Department is moving forward to address information-sharing challenges, it has encountered difficulties in proving and certifying these technologies in a testbed environment.
A new airborne tactical reconnaissance system soon will provide the United Kingdom's warfighters with an around-the-clock, all-weather surveillance capability that can be tailored to meet a variety of missions. Based on an operational unmanned aerial vehicle but with more sensors and longer endurance than existing British tactical platforms, its real-time data feeds will offer commanders greater situational awareness and operational flexibility.
As NATO shifts from a defensive alliance to a more responsive multinational organization, it is developing technologies and doctrines that provide commanders greater control over their assets. Key to this effort is a suite of systems that allows NATO commanders to establish logistics bases quickly to support a mission while minimizing its supply footprint.
The fusion of satellite communication, global positioning system and radio frequency identification tag technologies is giving the U.S. Marine Corps the ability to monitor the status of fallen comrades and battlefield assets. The Marines have several technology experiments underway that test the military's In-Transit Visibility/Total Asset Visibility concept, which seeks to identify, locate and monitor personnel, equipment and supplies from origination to destination. As the defense community grapples with how to assess and implement the capabilities these evolving technologies generate, field tests indicate they will improve situational awareness while saving time, money, resources and lives.
The combination of a low-tech platform and a high-tech radio is extending beyond-line-of-sight communications from 10 miles to more than 400 miles. The approach employs small hydrogen balloons that are sent into the near-space realm-defined as from 65,000 feet to 325,000 feet above Earth-toting two AN/PRC-148 radios that relay ground-to-ground, air-to-ground and ground-to-air voice and data communications. Although the capability was developed to address a combat-mission need statement and is scheduled to be deployed to theaters of operation in December, the benefits of this technique also could extend to homeland security as well as emergency relief efforts such as assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
If actions speak louder than words, then current military operations are shouting volumes about the benefits of network centricity in warfare. Case studies sponsored by the U.S. Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation present an abundance of hard evidence that networked forces can be up to 10 times more effective than non-networked troops in high-intensity conflict missions. In comparison to voice-only communications, what experts call the "information position" is between 10 and 100 times better not only for commanders but also for the individual warfighter. The studies also point out that even less-than-perfect networks can be valuable.
The recent disasters caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Gulf Coast of the United States laid bare many long-overlooked facts. Among them is the importance of local communications interoperability. From individuals at home to emergency responders operating on a national scale, communications connectivity is vital during a crisis. The communications shortcomings experienced during that series of disasters contributed to the difficulties faced by the populace.