Throughout its nearly 50 years in existence, NASA has taken great pride in operating at the cutting edge of technology in conducting important exploration and research missions for the nation. Now, with its new strategy to lead the way in extending the presence of human civilization throughout the solar system-beginning with the return of humans to the moon as early as 2018 and leading to the eventual human exploration of Mars-NASA will certainly be counting on a number of advanced technologies to go forward with its exploration activities.
NATO nations are incorporating new military and commercial technologies to extend both the capabilities and the reach of the alliance's communications and information systems. But, many technological challenges lie ahead before the alliance and other allied nations can interoperate in coalition operations. And some cultural barriers found at the heart of intelligence and military operations remain to be overcome.
Military and humanitarian relief personnel now can reach out from the field more easily with a product that combines voice and data communications capabilities in a single box. The approximately 65-pound kit is field portable, ruggedized and self-cooling. It uses open architecture standards and can be applied to hastily formed networks, military operations, disaster response and medical relief efforts.
Binoculars may become the U.S. Navy's next tactical communications system. A prototype technology allows optical viewing systems to transmit voice, video and data communications on a beam of non-laser light. The equipment can be easily fitted to any commercially available binoculars and provides warfighters with a way to coordinate operations without relying on radios.
Daring the world's robot builders and visionaries to design autonomous ground vehicles that could traverse the treacherous terrain of the Mojave Desert was not enough for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Always on the lookout for new ways to solve persistent problems, it is now taking its quest to the streets-the city streets, that is. Dubbing its latest competition Urban Challenge, the agency is enticing the mechanically inclined dreamers of the world with substantial cash awards to develop a driverless vehicle that can master the roads of a metropolis.
The U.S. Defense Department has launched a new policy initiative designed to provide increased security and interoperability for wireless devices and systems. The undertaking provides rules for the use of commercial wireless equipment on government networks and emphasizes the adoption of open standards for wireless technologies.
While information technology experts have been hard at work securing the national infostructure, other key sectors in the United States' vital infrastructure may be vulnerable to attack through their own information systems. Critical elements such as ports, railroads, the electrical grid, fuel pipelines and hazardous materials facilities may be equipped with information systems that are virtual open doors to malicious marauders ranging from rookie hackers to al-Qaida terrorists.
The rush of innovative information technologies is both mandating a greater need for advanced security and spawning a new generation of potential solutions. The explosion in networking and wireless communications brings with it greater security requirements, and computing advances offer the potential for a range of new information assurance approaches.
The Sender Policy Framework is an emerging Internet standard that could cause a large part of the U.S. Army's legitimate e-mail to be categorized as spam and dropped. Large e-mail providers in the commercial world are in the initial phases of implementing the framework, and while deleterious effects on Army e-mail have been rare so far, they are almost guaranteed to grow as more providers and intermediaries adopt the standard. However, several courses of action can address the issue, and Army Knowledge Online already has taken steps to implement the framework while simultaneously protecting the future viability of the service's e-mail system.
The battlefield is not the only place where coalition cooperation happens today. The U.S. Army has found that sometimes the answers to United States' technical questions reside overseas, and one of its organizations is taking advantage of expertise available across the Atlantic to address relentless issues such as maximizing data throughput and minimizing information overload.
Dismounted infantry may one day rely on four-legged robots to carry equipment and ammunition into battle. The U.S. Defense Department envisions the machines following troops into rugged terrain or through densely packed urban areas too confined for conventional vehicles. These automated quadrupeds are part of a larger government initiative to study how animals move and to apply those characteristics to robotic systems.
The U.S. Army's Land Warrior program is making new strides-or more specifically, making new treads-in equipping soldiers for 21st century warfare. Army troops are testing Land Warrior Stryker Vehicle Integration Kits to study the effects of the human factor on the capability and to assess its worth in combat situations. The technology will connect warfighters on the ground directly with each other and with vehicle crews without needing to exchange the information only at the leadership level. At the same time, the ability to use a weapon will not be inhibited.
Military leaders are adept at winning wars with tanks, troops and aircraft. Now the U.S. Army is putting the final touches on a campaign plan that sets the direction for the newest battlefield weapons: bits, bytes and the systems that deliver them. Earlier this year, the service's single authority for information management unveiled a detailed picture of short- and long-term operational capabilities implementation. The plan aims at supporting the force, helping fight the war on terrorism and sustaining transformation. It is on target to be finalized by the end of this month.
The U.S. Army is expanding the reach of its overarching information network down to the individual warfighter as demands for connectivity increase with the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only is the Army introducing new systems into the warfighting environment, it also is selecting elements of long-term programs for early insertion into the force.
I am certain that every successful military leader in our nation's history would say that people constitute the armed services' most value asset; and perhaps at no other time in history has that been truer. In operations around the world, the United States is relying on fewer people-both military and civilian-to do more with less. This is a spot-on description of service members, government workers, corporate personnel and law enforcement agents alike who are keeping our country safe or responding to those in need after disasters. And sometimes, in the middle of all the hype about technology, we lose sight of the fact that it is human-ware, if you will, that is the centerpiece of every successful operation.