The future of U.S. Army networks is evolving at Fort Bliss, Texas, through the development, testing and exercising of technologies that range from apps to cognitive networks. Though the initiatives are separate efforts, combined field events and close physical proximity are creating synergy between developers. As the work moves forward, successful outcomes will change how soldiers communicate at home and in the field.
U.S. Army communicators are focusing on providing key enabling technologies to warfighters who already are exploiting new networking capabilities. The urgencies of warfare, coupled with emerging communications requirements, have mandated that engineers concentrate on the user end of connectivity.
Special operations forces are looking to the commercial communications marketplace for their next generation of information systems and solutions. However, the U.S. Special Operations Command’s ability to tap commercial off-the-shelf systems is proving more difficult as its needs become more complex.
Military use of unmanned systems has increased substantially during the years of war in the Middle East, and even the service branch usually at home on the water is taking to the skies to support ground operations. The U.S. Navy is using ScanEagle platforms to support special operations forces in battle, helping to save lives as well as to complete missions successfully.
As commercial carriers around the globe begin to offer 4G networks to customers, the U.S. government is looking for similar capabilities in its organizations. A pioneering project is scheduled to move onto the battlefield soon to provide disadvantaged users with 3G capabilities for intelligence dissemination, but even as that moves forward, the next-generation wireless capability will become available.
Cmdr. Rick McCarthy, USN, director of administration for the NATO hospital in Kandahar, tells a lot of gory war stories: like the one about the 18-month-old toddler with a bullet wound in one arm. Or the report about the Afghanistan citizen who, following an explosion, had to have rocks picked from his face and lumps of dirt pulled from the tops of his eyeballs. Or the story about the soldier who had his face crushed by the armor-clad body of one of his buddies.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a unit of the U.S. Department of Justice, has emerged as a leader in the government’s executive branch when it comes to deploying mobile devices among its personnel. The agency’s law enforcement portfolio has given it an edge as a large portion of its work force already uses laptops and handheld devices for work outside of the Washington, D.C., headquarters.
U.S. Army soldiers have something in common with Superman and Spider-Man: they all benefit from Army-funded virtual reality research being conducted at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies. The Oscar-winning research has made digital characters look more realistic in movies such as Avatar, Spider-Man II and Superman Returns, among others, and it also helps soldiers cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. It also is used to train service members for a variety of missions and situations, including countering both improvised explosive devices and insurgency operations, as well as tactical intelligence gathering. The institute’s research, which rapidly is taking the “virtual” out of virtual reality, also helps teach soldiers such traits as leadership, cultural awareness and relationship building.
Today’s dismounted infantry soldier often packs more than 140 pounds and still has incomplete ballistic protection, insufficient defense against chemical and biological weapons, and too many pieces of equipment that do not work well together, according to officials at the U.S. Army Research Office’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. Reducing the cumbersome weight that soldiers lug around on the battlefield is a major priority for the Army, which is intent on transforming itself into a lighter, more flexible 21st century force. Research being conducted at the institute one day could help transform current combat fatigues and bulky equipment into a do-it-all battle uniform that not only is lightweight but also provides many other benefits.
Coalition forces have a new resource in the battle against improvised explosive devices, and it should enhance efforts well into the future. This training initiative offers both immediate skills for the war in Afghanistan as well as train-the-trainer options for participants to bring back to their home countries. Success will mean fewer deaths and injuries for all warfighters, but the work also has another goal—to prepare foreign troops to take more active roles in conflict, thereby reducing the number of U.S. service members who have to fight on the front lines.
The export laws imposed by the U.S. government on defense-related goods and information have been a source of aggravation for U.S. companies and foreign customers for years. Private-sector firms continue to push for changes, and both the enforcement agencies and the current presidential administration are responding. However, interested parties sitting outside the border see several issues that might not be at the forefront for those making the adjustments.
During a year spent in the harsh environs of Helmand Province, communications Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) engaged in a range of projects that helped protect their fellow warfighters and changed the face of technology in the area. From enlarging existing networks to introducing capabilities new to the Corps, systems in that territory will never be the same. And neither will the lives of the local residents, who are taking advantage of the increased stability in the region.
Joint and coalition relationships that begin long before forces meet on the field have become a cornerstone of defense policies and officials in the military’s cybersecurity training arena are working to make sure the same holds true in the newest battlespace domain as well. Troops from the various armed forces branches already are attending education courses together, no matter which service sponsors the class, and in some cases coalition partners also are participating.
Members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) recently spent a year in what is arguably the most dangerous place on the planet for a U.S. service member—Helmand Province, Afghanistan. During the deployment, combat communicators were tasked with the normal duties of equipment operations and data transmission security. But by the time they came home, they had celebrated other noteworthy accomplishments, employed technology new to the Corps and identified several challenges as well as ways industry could help overcome them.
Persistent surveillance has been pegged as a crucial capability in current and future operations. Mind’s Eye is one of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) newest and most aggressive efforts to improve conditions for warfighters on the ground. The agency is working with the U.S. Army, industry and academia to create a way to educate video collection devices. Although existing cameras and sensors capture activity in an area, the mounds of visual data they collect are overwhelming to analysts and warfighters alike. Once visual intelligence is achieved, these information mountains will become actionable knowledge molehills that can be sent to commanders and perhaps directly to warfighters’ handheld computers in the field.
Unmanned ground systems on the battlefield provide critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and help counter improvised explosive devices. Now, ground robots are positioned to expand into armed missions in Afghanistan.
The story of the technology marketplace in the Netherlands is much like that of other countries in Europe and around the world. The economic downturn has led to slashed government budgets, greater outsourcing and a need for companies to expand internationally. One thing that sets the Netherlands apart, though, is the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency, which has an office in The Hague, as well as in Brussels, Belgium, and offers opportunities not found elsewhere.
The key to defeating improvised explosive devices may lie in attacking the network that procures, develops and emplaces the weaponry rather than focusing on the device itself. Eight years of combating both the devices and their effects has broadened the mission of those tasked with rendering these weapons null in the realm of asymmetric warfare.
The road to stability in Afghanistan is being paved with telecommunications systems. Through the strategic use of technology, the country already is experiencing improvements in connectivity that will continue to progress until the governance, industrial and the socio-economic state of the country all reap the benefits. If plans, activities and cooperation continue as they have for the past few months, Afghanistan will be poised by the middle of this decade to take its place among the most economically stable and technologically savvy countries in the world.
The U.S. Army is giving soldiers who have lost limbs a higher quality of life, including allowing some to remain on active duty or to return to combat if they choose. In part because of research conducted through the Army’s Advanced Prosthetics and Human Performance program, individuals who have lost limbs are jumping out of airplanes or commanding troops in combat.