Back in 1946 when AFCEA and SIGNAL Magazine were new, the number-one technology problem vexing military planners was to provide mobile communications to the warfighter. Now, 60 years later, we face exactly the same challenge. Even though all of the other factors of warfare have changed, that problem still persists.
Coordinating evolving operational and technical requirements between government agencies and allied nations was the focus of AFCEA's Transformation TechNet 2006 conference and exposition. Held in Hampton, Virginia, in May, the two-day event's theme was "TEAM Transformation … A Must for International Security." Conference topics addressed the various joint and cooperative efforts underway among government, military, industry and international organizations.
Conversations with computers are usually pretty one-sided: Users may yell obscenities; cursors continue to blink innocuously. But a collaborative effort between the military and industry may one day replace this one-way, futile discourse with systems that understand the user's cognitive state and then respond accordingly. The implications of this capability reach beyond ensuring that warfighters are primed to receive critical information. It could prove to be instrumental to inventing ways of designing new systems and improving military training.
Scientists in the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research are developing new virtual reality simulations that address the needs of land-based warriors such as U.S. Marines. These simulations seek to reproduce various motions and scenarios as faithfully as battlefield conditions.
The U.S. Justice Department is facing problems similar to those of the U.S. Defense Department as it tries to enable communications interoperability among civilian public safety organizations. It must ensure that any of thousands of different communications systems can interoperate during times of crisis, but those systems often have been procured independently without any applied standards.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is using a bottom-up technique to protect the nation by working with local first responders to develop standards and a way for jurisdictions to communicate with one another. Under the Safecom initiative, the department is helping states develop strategic plans to improve statewide interoperable communications.
Law enforcement agencies are benefiting from mesh network technologies developed originally for military use. Private industry is modifying versions of these types of communications systems to allow police and other public workers to share vital information more quickly and reliably than through cellular communications. The benefits are evident. While cellular communications rely on a central tower to relay messages that can become backlogged in emergency situations, mesh networks avoid this inherent problem by employing multiple routers set up around an area that allow messages to find alternative wireless paths to recipients.
After years of discussion, some military experts still disagree about the next step for the Operationally Responsive Space concept. While many believe the time for study and analysis is over, others say questions remain about the details of the capability's benefits for warfighting. Despite these differences, all agree that the time to move forward is now and that funding remains one of the biggest impediments to progress.
The latest version of a widely used commercial communications standard may soon provide U.S. troops with faster, more efficient networking technologies. Designed to greatly improve data throughput rates, the new rule also offers potentially greater operating ranges than current networks. However, the rule faces several challenges from developers before it can be fully approved.
An experimental technology soon may allow U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor pilots to use the fighter's radar as a high-bandwidth communications system. This capability would enable F-22s and other platforms to transmit in near real time imagery and other files too large for rapid dissemination by current datalinks. The application could greatly enhance the U.S. Defense Department's network-centric warfare capabilities by turning tactical aircraft into reconnaissance and surveillance platforms.
A new network management technology soon may change the ways unattended ground sensors are designed and operated. By focusing on the radio systems that link individual devices, scientists hope to create an intelligent networking architecture that uses the radio's full communications capability both to conserve energy in a passive mode and to provide brief high-bandwidth data streams. Such operational flexibility would allow the development of multisensor devices able to activate a variety of onboard applications from microphones to real-time streaming video to meet intelligence collection needs.
Envision a future filled with millions of wireless nodes connected through a smart network that automatically adjusts to optimize communications performance. Achieving this reality would require developing low-cost devices and mitigating current weaknesses in networking technology. However, when this vision is realized, troops will be able to infiltrate areas devoid of communications infrastructure yet stay in touch with each other and platforms in the battlespace.
Improving information sharing and moving toward information management rather than data management are priority objectives for Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) information technology. Traditionally, information protection included withholding information to better protect it. Tendencies toward withholding and perhaps overclassifying information made for multiple organizational elements throughout the government with their own treasure trove of information that was not available to others. The more information withheld, the more important the organizational element, according to some.