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January 2013

Technology Is Good, but People Are Better

January 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

Uncertainty reigns in warfare, and it is impossible to fully understand the intentions of a capable, thinking adversary in the midst of conflict. Yet, the best counter to this is to have equally adept and creative personnel able to recognize that warfare does not merely consist of armed clashes, but the combination of moral, psychological, economic and political forces.

In a landmark historical incident, the onset of World War I brought about one of the more remarkable chases of 20th century warfare. As Barbara Tuchman describes in her book, “The Guns of August,” with hostilities declared in early August 1914, Germany sought then-neutral Turkey as an ally to mitigate a Russian front to its East. The masterstroke to securing this alliance involved sending the entire German Mediterranean fleet—all of two ships—in a mad dash toward the entrance of the Dardanelles on a diplomatic, not military, mission.

Not expecting this unorthodox move, Britain deployed its numerous ships to protect a French convoy sailing from Africa while also maneuvering to prevent an escape by the Germans through the Straits of Gibraltar. Through the winding fates of war, multiple opportunities were missed to sink the armed German messengers. The once-bold Nelsonian Royal Navy had revealed its evolution toward a technologically superior, but far more untested, conservative one.

The ultimate arrival of the Germans persuaded the Turkish government to renounce neutrality, causing Winston Churchill to later admit this one action caused “more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship.”

Obstacles Loom for Pacific Realignment

January 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The shift of U.S. power to the Asia-Pacific will not be successful without an infusion of new technology and a dedicated effort to defeat a wide range of adversaries. The new strategic emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region poses a new set of challenges, mandating solutions that run the gamut from technological capabilities to cultural outreach and diplomacy.

On the military side, direct challenges range from dealing with cyberspace attacks to providing missile defense in a large-scale conflict. On the geopolitical side, centuries of conflict and confrontation among neighbors must be overcome if a region-wide security environment enabling economic growth is to be implemented.

The technological response will require moving game-changing—or even disruptive—technologies into theater faster and more effectively. Strategically, both government and the military must build more extensive coalitions among a large number of nations, some of which historically have not trusted each other.

These points were among the many discussed at TechNet Asia-Pacific 2012, held in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 13-15. Titled “Rebalancing Toward the Asia-Pacific—Challenges and Opportunities,” the conference featured a multinational roster of speakers and panelists from across government, the military, industry and academia.

One challenge that faces modern military forces anywhere in the world is cyberspace, and the threat in that realm is extending into new areas with potentially greater lethality. A new type of player has emerged among cyber malefactors, and many traditional adversaries are adopting new tactics that combine both hardware and software exploitation. These threats no longer are confined to customary targets, as even systems once thought sacrosanct are vulnerable to potentially devastating onslaughts.

NATO Addresses Its Info-Centric Future

January 1, 2013

Challenges and solutions abound as the alliance puts its reorganization to the test.

The recent reorganization of NATO’s information organization represents the leading edge of a series of new approaches toward operations and procurement by the 63-year-old alliance. At the heart of this effort is NATO’s “smart defense” initiative, which seeks to do more with less. By design, it must involve industry and cooperative efforts early in the development of any program.

New technologies and capabilities highlight NATO’s latest thrust into information-centric operations, as the alliance has consolidated development, procurement and management functions into its NATO Communications and Information Agency, or NCIA. This agency is tasked with leading NATO into a future dominated by mobile communications, cloud computing and big data.

The gains envisioned by this reorganization and the smart defense initiative could be tempered by a number of traditional and new threats. As NATO moves into the cloud and relies on big data, the cyberthreat becomes more dangerous and a greater obstacle to be overcome, for example.

These and other points were discussed at TechNet International 2012, held in Rome, Italy, October 23-25. Organized under the auspices of the Italian Ministry of Defense, the event was held in partnership by the NCIA and AFCEA Europe and included the NCIA Industry Conference. Titled “Creating Tomorrow’s C4ISR: Partnership–Imagination–Innovation,” the conference featured leaders from NATO, nations’ militaries and industry who offered candid assessments of the challenges and opportunities that are defining NATO’s new approach to command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR).

Senior Government Executives Bridge Burgeoning Gap

January 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

More activities depend on one group of employees facing severe limitations of their own.

Cutbacks in government programs and personnel are placing greater stress on senior executives just as new restrictions on activities hinder their ability to carry out vital parts of their missions. These restrictions include limitations on how executives can interact with nongovernment organizations and personnel that have been part of long-term, important outreach efforts. Other issues are reducing the attractiveness of a Senior Executive Service position within government. And, this comes as these executives are being relied on to an ever-increasing degree as sea changes sweep through the federal government.

Whether the challenge is overcoming restrictions on conference attendance or maintaining year-to-year operational continuity, members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) are the link between the federal work force and cabinet-level political appointees. While cabinet secretaries set policy and generally make the headlines for their agencies, career federal managers who are part of the SES ensure the daily work of government goes on. And even at a time of uncertainty, whether it is the transition to a post-election administration or dealing with the unknown effects of potential sequestration, the SES provides a degree of long-term continuity for federal department heads.

With little specific guidance from the White House and the Office of Management and Budget on possible sequestration, not much concern has been voiced so far about the potential effects of drastic spending cuts at government agencies on the part of SES members, according to Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association (SEA). The group represents the more than 7,000 federal employees who constitute the SES.

U.S. Government Bets Big on Data

January 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

A multi-agency big data initiative offers an array of national advantages.

U.S. government agencies will award a flurry of contracts in the coming months under the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, a massive undertaking involving multiple agencies and $200 million in commitments. The initiative is designed to unleash the power of the extensive amounts of data generated on a daily basis. The ultimate benefit, experts say, could transform scientific research, lead to the development of new commercial technologies, boost the economy and improve education, all of which makes the United States more competitive with other nations and enhances national security.

Big data is defined as datasets too large for typical database software tools to capture, store, manage and analyze. Experts estimate that in 2013, 3.6 zettabytes of data will be created, and the amount doubles every two years. A zettabyte is equal to 1 billion terabytes, and a terabyte is equal to 1 trillion bytes.

When the initiative was announced March 29, 2012, John Holdren, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, compared it to government investments in information technology that led to advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet. The initiative promises to transform the ability to use big data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education and national security, Holdren says.

Currently, much of generated data is available only to a select few. “Data are sitting out there in labs—in tens of thousands of labs across the country, and only the person who developed the database in that lab can actually access the data,” says Suzanne Iacono, deputy assistant director for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

Too Much Information Imperils Big Data

January 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

It causes problems from the battlefield to the doctor’s office, but leaders are fueling the competitive fire to find an answer. 

Government experts on big data are taking a lesson from the commercial sector to introduce a novel means of finding solutions to some of their most daunting challenges. Using an open innovation approach, thought leaders believe they can generate new ideas while also reducing costs, speeding processes and soliciting responses from outside the usual cast of characters.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA ran what they called the Ideation Challenge, focused on big data, between October and December of last year. The challenge comprised three different contests. Organizers scheduled the events close together on purpose, and officials used results from earlier competitions in the posting of later ones to help generate buzz. They hoped that participants would see what others had accomplished, then want to build or improve on those results.

Organizers focused the contests on the fields of earth science, health and energy. The series of competitions was hosted through the NASA Tournament Lab, which is a collaboration among the space agency, Harvard University and TopCoder, a competitive community for software development and digital creation with more than 400,000 members. Competitors submitted their ideas through TopCoder’s technologies.

Desperately Seeking Big Data Standards

January 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

An industry group is racing to draft commonly accepted best practices for security and privacy. 

A coalition of information technology companies has banded to create industrywide standards to help both the public and private sectors manage large information datasets. This effort is tapping some of the best minds in computing to work with datasets that now are reaching into the realm of petabytes and exabytes in size.

Whether these large datasets come from harvesting the buying habits of customers on a store’s website or from a military fleet of drones performing aerial reconnaissance over Iraq or Afghanistan, managing huge volumes of information can be compared to trying to take a sip of water through a firehose. New ways must be developed to manage and secure large volumes of information when traditional database applications fall short. In some cases, the inability to provide timely analysis of an extremely large dataset may result in a missed business opportunity or, as in the case of the intelligence community, failure to capture vital information for security purposes. In addition, the limitations of existing analytic tools when it comes to big data may hamper a business or government organization’s ability to spot future weaknesses, or to be proactive about important decisions.

Reading, Writing and Big Data Basics

January 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

An industry-supported online school provides a good grounding
in the science and application of very large datasets.

A virtual school, developed by a team of leading software and hardware companies, is providing readily accessible education in the use of large information datasets. The classes range from entry-level sessions on the essentials of big data for managers to practical instruction for veteran programmers who are accustomed to managing more traditional relational databases.

The mission of BigData University is to provide training and broaden the expertise of the big data community, explains Ben Connors, director of BigData University and worldwide head of alliances with Jaspersoft Incorporated, San Francisco. The uses of big data are expanding, whether for improving the health of children, facilitating the search for clean sources of energy or analyzing intelligence data from unmanned aerial vehicles. As a result, managers are realizing the potential that may be hidden within large information files whose size is measured by petabytes and exabytes, Connors explains.

Korea Exercise Changes the Game

January 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

An unprecedented choice allows soldiers to use communications and intelligence assets in more meaningful ways.

Military operational decisions are moving further down the chain of the command, and a group of Stryker soldiers has taken a large step toward improving the training small units receive. Troops with this battalion had a chance to practice with capabilities never before available to them in an environment that simulates combat better than any facility they have at home. The results are new levels of preparation and confidence for whatever challenges they may be called on to handle next.

Home based in Hawaii, the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division traveled to Korea to conduct the training event Wolfhound Maul. The unit is nicknamed the Wolfhounds. Contained within that effort was a smaller combined arms live fire exercise (CALFEX) that gave the unit’s three subordinate companies a chance to run full-spectrum operations with new assets in stressful surroundings. Maj. Christopher Choi, USA, operations officer for the battalion, says that as his team searched for the best resources to conduct the training it wanted to provide, it realized Korea offered benefits not available in Hawaii. After a careful cost-benefit analysis, decision makers chose to approve the travel to the Korean peninsula. Almost the entire battalion made the trip, with its companies experiencing the CALFEX training one at a time over a period of a month.

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