It is not often that government leadership discusses the importance of system engineering or complex system management, but major setbacks for the U.S. Coast Guard's $24 billion Deepwater program are casting a shadow over the use of lead system integrators on other U.S. Defense Department acquisitions. These setbacks also are highlighting the lack of government system engineering knowledge.
The U.S. Army is developing a network-centric system to connect and manage its air defense systems. The capability will provide commanders with a dynamic, real-time picture of the battlespace through shared data feeding into the network. Dynamic software will permit warfighters to establish defenses quickly by selecting available weapons batteries and sensors across a theater of operations and linking them into a combat mission.
A new trans-Atlantic partnership comprising interdisciplinary research teams is developing wireless and sensor technologies to support future multinational network-centric operations.
The U.K. government is challenging British science and technology innovators to apply all their brainpower to helping protect the nation's forces from danger in an urban battlespace. The objective of the Ministry of Defence Grand Challenge competition is to yield a highly autonomous system that will detect, identify, monitor and report fully and partially obscured threats in urban areas in real time. This call to action is part of the ministry's strategy to involve industry and academia in U.K. defense challenges.
Tasked with a smorgasbord of new missions, the U.S. Navy is building a riverine force with operational capabilities ranging from brown water combat to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This group already has tasted combat in Iraq, and planners are developing equipment and adapting technologies for a long-term riverine force.
Ships without captains or crew are cruising from the open seas to the coastline. These developmental craft from both the public and private sectors will improve security and capabilities near land and keep sailors and others out of danger.
Unmanned aerial vehicles have become such an integral part of missions that it is difficult to remember a time when the U.S. military relied solely on manned aircraft. As the U.S. Navy prepares to launch into a similar brave new world where crewless platforms propel warfighters out of harm's way, the service faces challenges beyond the technical hurdles. Some issues can be resolved by industry; others will require a worldwide national-level consensus that will change the maritime domain with ramifications not seen since the dawn of modern shipbuilding.
Soldiers operating in built-up neighborhoods can receive more timely and complete information about enemy forces by harnessing low-flying unmanned aerial vehicles. An autonomous system emerging from development in a far-reaching program coordinates delivery of video from unmanned aerial platforms and other military reconnaissance assets.
Responding to a soldier's complaint about equipment inadequacies in Iraq, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld replied, "You go to war with the army you have, not with the army you want," and his remark was condemned as an unforgivable excuse for gross mismanagement. While warranted, that criticism could be leveled at most administrations in U.S. history when arms are stacked and forgotten at war's end. Today, mismanagement is exemplified by the current reliance on information operations amid network centricity, which offers as much vulnerability as advantage.
A portable device that will be among the first of its kind to incorporate secure voice capability as well as e-mail and personal digital assistant functionality is on schedule for distribution by the end of the year. The device's features will include secure transmission up to Top Secret level for voice and up to Secret level for data. Its small, integrated package will enable troops to take advantage of these features while they are mobile.
Advances in technology soon may make large-scale mesh networks a reality. The developments will create a system that can handle hundreds of sensors without occupying all the available bandwidth. The advancements improve communication among mobile nodes and support low-bandwidth sensors.
The U.S. seat of power will be home to the country's first regional communications network of networks to link police, firefighters and first responders. Working with its geographic neighbors, Washington, D.C., begins acceptance testing of the network within the district next month. Once fully in place, the system will enable emergency personnel throughout the National Capital Region to communicate and share information seamlessly with each other.
The U.S. Defense Department's ambitious effort to develop and field a family of multipurpose software-defined radios is beginning to make progress after numerous setbacks. The Joint Tactical Radio System program's goal is to replace the services' myriad radios with equipment designed for joint interoperability. The project is back on track after cost overruns and a lack of oversight in key areas drew government criticism and forced it to undergo a major reorganization in March 2006.