Maryann Lawlor


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Maryann Lawlor
Director of Communications
Truth is, I became a writer because in high school, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t know. But I figured that, while I couldn’t commit to being a doctor or teacher for the rest of my life, I could write about doctors and teachers and cars and housework…oh, how the list goes on…and, OK, so Watergate was really big at the time.

But then, life happened. I met my husband during my first week at Marquette University and we married five years later. In 1983, we had our first of two sons, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom. In 1992, I answered a classified ad for a publication assistant at AFCEA. I’d been out of the work force for nine years, and a “little thing” called personal computers had the nerve to move into offices while I wasn’t looking. But I couldn’t have landed in a better place. Rob Robinson, SIGNAL’s editor in chief at the time, allowed me to write for SIGNAL Magazine from time to time…and I learned. Since then, I’ve worked on a Mac at the office and a PC at home. I’ve had the opportunity to write about artificial intelligence, UAVs, satellites…oh how the list goes on.

Sometimes, people are impressed when I tell them I’m a journalist. I explain that, like most people, I hate to write…I like to have written. What I do enjoy is interviewing people who are passionate about what they do. And there are no more dedicated people in this world than members of the military.

My Recent Content:

GPS Helps First Responders Rule the Road
June 6, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
System to provide special vehicles with specialized data.
  • Unlike standard GPS-enabled map apps, QuickRoute settings include options such as “Use Controlled Opposing Lanes” and “Show QuickRoute Alerts on Map.”
     Unlike standard GPS-enabled map apps, QuickRoute settings include options such as “Use Controlled Opposing Lanes” and “Show QuickRoute Alerts on Map.”
  • Even with all its special features, the QuickRoute app resembles the map apps first responders are accustomed to from personal use.
     Even with all its special features, the QuickRoute app resembles the map apps first responders are accustomed to from personal use.

First responders can’t always use the same apps the general public depends on to get to their destination by the fastest route. Commercial apps may not factor in delays such as weather events, traffic accidents or the size and weight of their vehicles.

To address first responders’ special needs, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and partner Azimuth1 LLC are developing QuickRoute, an app that uses GPS and routing data to provide turn-by-turn directions. Not only will the app warn responders of hazards along the route but also leverage additional data streams that will offer emergency personnel greater flexibility when time is of the essence.

QuickRoute takes into account the capabilities of different vehicle types such as required turn radius or bridge and tunnel clearance as well as their unique ability to use lights and sirens to clear paths and avoid signals. Other data sources, including weather patterns, traffic and transit schedules, and local jurisdiction rules such as right-of-way and private access roads, are also factored in, giving responders the quickest and safest route to the scene.

“There’s a tremendous need for an application like QuickRoute,” says Justin Green, battalion chief, special operations, Fire and Rescue, Loudoun County, Virginia. “It sounds very simple to go from point A to point B, but there are many factors that impact a first responder’s route. What we’re focusing on here is a lot of that information that we don’t have ready access to, such as traffic conditions, roadwork projects, weather impacts such as flooding or snow, or accidents that other agencies may report that we don’t hear about.”

In April 2019, S&T and Azimuth1 field-tested QuickRoute with first responders and transportation stakeholders at a DHS federal law enforcement training facility in Maryland. The test plan, designed by S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory, had participants evaluate QuickRoute in several staged response scenarios, including medical emergencies, accident response and fire calls. Hazards included weather events and roadway challenges placed along the routes.  

During the trial, responders were tasked with using the app to navigate through simulated lane closures, drive the wrong way down a one-way road, cross over road dividers and enter a roadway via an exit ramp. Along each route, the app sent alerts about road or weather conditions that could hamper a timely response and suggested alternate routes to more immediately direct their specific vehicles to the simulated emergency scenes.

Evaluators provided valuable feedback about additional app features, integration with computer-aided dispatch systems, and alerts and notifications that Azimuth1 will soon integrate.

The QuickRoute team continues to refine the app’s back-end system, which features after-action reporting functions that display paths taken and other key routing data that agencies can use to calculate time saved and advantages and disadvantages of particular routes. Responders will be able to compare routes QuickRoute calculated with the routes civilians regularly take.

A report of the findings from the April 2019 QuickRoute operational field assessment will be posted to the S&T website, and the QuickRoute system itself—the app and a desktop version—will be available for purchase during the second quarter of 2020.

Departments: 
Sea Service Pivots to Protect Against Great Powers
June 5, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
With industry’s assistance, the Navy will be able to deliver latest capabilities anytime, anywhere.
  • U.S. Navy sailors collaborate with Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific’s RESTORE Lab to explore how three-dimensional scanning and printing can deliver an effective and reliable solution to repair critical warfighting equipment. U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. John P Fagan /Released
     U.S. Navy sailors collaborate with Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific’s RESTORE Lab to explore how three-dimensional scanning and printing can deliver an effective and reliable solution to repair critical warfighting equipment. U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. John P Fagan /Released
  • While assigned to Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Reserve Program, Electronics Technician 1st Class Robert Hart, USNR, supports Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific engineers. The program leverages education, corporate knowledge and military experience and applies those skills to the challenges the fleet is facing with respect to complex command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems. Courtesy Photo
     While assigned to Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Reserve Program, Electronics Technician 1st Class Robert Hart, USNR, supports Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific engineers. The program leverages education, corporate knowledge and military experience and applies those skills to the challenges the fleet is facing with respect to complex command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems. Courtesy Photo

The U.S. Navy is working to keep pace with its land counterparts by providing the right information, software updates and new technical capabilities to its sailors at the right place and the right time. In the case of the sea service, the right place is often out at sea and under suboptimal conditions for satellite transmissions. The right time is every moment they need it.

The Navy’s new Combat to Connect in 24 Hours (C2C24) program aims to achieve this goal, and the service is looking to industry for assistance with addressing this and other challenges. To this end, AFCEA International’s Intelligence department is hosting the Navy Information Warfare Industry Day, a classified (Secret/NOFORN) event that takes place on June 21 at the NGA Campus East in Springfield, Virginia.

Joseph Gradisher explains the Navy’s focus, strategy and requirements have shifted for several reasons. Gradisher, who is the strategic engagement director, deputy chief of naval operations information warfare, admits that the first challenge is the reappearance of threats from great powers.

After the 9/11 terrorists attacks on the United States, the U.S. Defense Department turned its attention toward developing ways to fight small groups and rogue nation-states. These operations primarily took place on land against terrorist cells and groups like al-Qaida and the Taliban, so the focus on the “blue water force” declined, he explains.

Today’s threat environment demands different capabilities, and the emphasis of the Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO) strategy as well as A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority Design 2.0, an unclassified version of the strategy, and the National Defense Strategy, Gradisher explains, is a return to protecting against attacks from Russia and China primarily, and to a lesser degree North Korea and Iran, and will require more of the maritime services.

Another motivation for boosting the speed at which ships can obtain the most recent information and intelligence is how quickly technology itself is changing, he says. Adversaries are developing new ways to attack information systems as fast as—and sometimes faster than—any large military or nation. As a result, ship systems must be protected against the latest cybersecurity hacks at the speed of technology change.

One way the Navy confronted this challenge occurred over the past decade as individual naval departments melded their previously stovepiped sections, combining their capabilities and supporting each other’s missions. For example, by combining the N2, which focused on intelligence, and the N6 that concentrated on information technology, the service brought together a corps of professionals dedicated to harnessing the power of the whole force, Gradisher relates.

Another way the sea service has attacked the cybersecurity challenges that top-speed changes pose is by working with industry. “We’ve had these industry days every year because we recognize we can’t do this on our own,” he says. “We need industry’s participation in preparations for and in the fight we’re in today. Industry plays a crucial role. If you look at the CNO’s Design 2.0, one of the things he stresses in there are partnerships with our foreign allies, with our other services, in the joint world but also very specifically with our industry and academia partners. We need the talent and skills they bring and the capabilities they bring to give us the tools we need to succeed,” Gradisher states.

The IW Industry Day has been designed to facilitate this conversation. It begins with a high-level explanation of the Navy’s overall strategy and throughout the day narrows the focus to how the service currently fights. Next, the N2N6 perspective will be discussed, which will lead to an explanation of budget restraints and how they may affect the technical solutions the service considers. The afternoon sessions are dedicated to C2C24, the defense industrial base and acquisition.

This last item is particularly important, Gradisher says, because the service must find ways to work within the procurement system, which can be lengthy, yet obtain state-of-the-art technologies. Company and academia participants are invited to speak one-on-one with naval information warfare leaders at the conference to help find a solution to this challenge, he points out. Register for the event online. Registration is free for military and federal civilian personnel.

Departments: 
AI May Pose More Questions Than Answers
May 31, 2109
By Maryann Lawlor
Amazon’s Alexa may be able to play your favorite song, but is artificial intelligence ready for the big leagues?
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning are still technically in their infancy. Both show promise in the military and government arenas, but experts still have many questions.
     Artificial intelligence and machine learning are still technically in their infancy. Both show promise in the military and government arenas, but experts still have many questions.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques could help information and network defenders recognize patterns of potential attackers so their next moves can be proactively blocked. In addition, cyber tools enhanced with these capabilities could provide a much more detailed picture of the cyber battlefield and increase the potential of success in a cyber campaign. This knowledge would complement the kinetic battlefield and could permit war planners to choose the appropriate mix of cyber and kinetic operations.

The invisible nature of cyber operations makes it a powerful weapon. Unlike its kinetic counterpart, victims usually aren’t aware of an attack until they experience the effects. As a result, much of the most important discussions about U.S. cyber activities must take place behind closed doors in a classified environment. This is one of the reasons AFCEA International is hosting the association’s fourth Classified Cyber Forum.

Jim Richberg, one of the forum’s organizers, says the event aims to address several emerging implications of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML). Among the topics, event presenters will discuss the prognosis for near-, mid- and long-term development and adoption of AI/ML; adversarial machine learning; and the interaction between defensive and offensive cyber use of AI/ML.

Richberg, who has more than 30 years of experience in the U.S. government leading and driving innovation in cyber intelligence, policy and strategy, says, “The long term development of AI/ML and its impact on cybersecurity are worth examining since it's unlikely to play out in a simple or predicable manner.”

John Gilligan, CEO, Center for Internet Security, agrees that AI/ML in adversaries’ hands will pose challenges unlike those seen today. “Using AI/ML, attackers can refine their methods of attack more rapidly by ‘learning’ about the defenses of a target and quickly turning to other methods of attack that might be more successful,” he says.

AI/ML also may affect kinetic warfare strategic planning, Gilligan adds. “There is the potential that AI/ML cyber tools could provide a much more detailed picture of the cyber ‘battlefield’ and increase the potential of success in a cyber campaign. This knowledge would complement that knowledge of the kinetic battlefield to permit war planners to choose the appropriate mix of cyber and kinetic operations,” he explains.

While cyber and kinetic capabilities may complement each other in the battlespace, Richberg points out several other issues still must be addressed regarding how artificial intelligence and machine learning fit into industry planning when it comes to the government and military environment. For example, he points out developers must still determine where cybersecurity ranks when compared to more readily monetized areas for AI/ML investment.

Richberg also asks, “Are we doing things in AI/ML that may make sense in the near term or from a narrow organizational perspective, but that are suboptimal from strategic/whole-of-nation perspective activities? Are we 'eating our seed corn' as a nation and picking 'winners' prematurely instead of hedging our bets? For instance, many early adapters are making their efforts proprietary and academic research is becoming commercialized. [Do] we lack an adequate academic or commercial training pipeline, etc.?”

These and several other topics about how the future of artificial intelligence and machine learning fit into cyberspace will be explored during the AFCEA Classified Cyber Forum, which takes place on June 12 in Chantilly, Virginia. A detailed agenda and registration is available online.

Departments: 
Collaboration Can Curb Adversarial Threats
April 17, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
As a weapon, private-public partnerships demonstrate strength in numbers.
  • Rear Adm. Christian Becker, USN, commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), discusses the defense industry’s role executing the Chief of Naval Operations “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0” during a combined AFCEA and NDIA event. SPAWAR works closely with industry to provide the tactical networks, space systems and C4ISR technology assets and services U.S. Navy fleet operators require. U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt/Released
     Rear Adm. Christian Becker, USN, commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), discusses the defense industry’s role executing the Chief of Naval Operations “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0” during a combined AFCEA and NDIA event. SPAWAR works closely with industry to provide the tactical networks, space systems and C4ISR technology assets and services U.S. Navy fleet operators require. U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt/Released
  • While on active duty as deputy commandant of mission support for the U.S. Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Sandra Stosz, USCG (Ret.), spoke with attendees at the 2017 AFCEA Homeland Security Conference. Photo by Mike Carpenter
     While on active duty as deputy commandant of mission support for the U.S. Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Sandra Stosz, USCG (Ret.), spoke with attendees at the 2017 AFCEA Homeland Security Conference. Photo by Mike Carpenter
  • Conferences offer members of the private and public sectors to meet face-to-face to discuss opportunities and solutions while building trust. Photo by Mike Carpenter
     Conferences offer members of the private and public sectors to meet face-to-face to discuss opportunities and solutions while building trust. Photo by Mike Carpenter

Threats to U.S. homeland security are more numerous, more complex and evolving more rapidly. This accelerated threat environment is enabled in great part by emerging technology that has emboldened adversaries to doggedly evade defensive barriers.

Defeating these hostile threat attempts depends on building effective private-public partnerships, says John M. Kreger, vice president, public sector programs, Center for Programs and Technology, The MITRE Corporation. “Successful private-public partnerships can enhance the technological impact and achieve efficiencies to help further our homeland security mission,” he states.

Kreger explains connections must be established not only between organizations but also across agencies, states and critical infrastructure owners and operators. Sharing information will ensure the coordination of threat-related advisories and materials that are designed to safeguard critical sectors and infrastructure, he relates.

“To foster private-public partnerships, we [first] need to work together and overcome obstacles such as regulatory and policy constraints as well as challenging contract and procurement requirements,” he says.

One reason quick coordination among organizations is crucial is that, like allies, adversaries are increasingly using emerging capabilities such as artificial intelligence and machine learning as part of their strategies and subversive attacks.

For example, deepfake creates realistic depictions of situations that never occurred by employing deep learning algorithms and almost seamlessly mapping target images, video or audio content into other media content, Kreger observes. “For example, threat actors could map real digital facial portraits or video of one person onto a person in another image or video and, voice mimicking the original person, attribute a fake message from a reliable, credible source,” he says.

To combat these types of misuse of emerging capabilities, organizations that link homeland security stakeholders to create effective alliances can increase and improve the quality of information sharing.

More information about how adversaries are employing the latest technologies to threaten homeland security will be discussed at the 2019 AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

Departments: 
Link 16 Hits the Ground Running
April 17, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
Next-generation terminals put communication power in warfighters’ hands.
  • Ground operations are the new frontier for Link 16 systems. Unlike their larger airborne and naval predecessors, these nodes spend more time receiving transmissions from platforms such as aircraft. Credit: ViaSat
     Ground operations are the new frontier for Link 16 systems. Unlike their larger airborne and naval predecessors, these nodes spend more time receiving transmissions from platforms such as aircraft. Credit: ViaSat

Communications requirements are changing in tandem with new modes of military battlefield requirements. Until a few years ago, voice had been the predominant communications medium. Variable message format messages were adopted as the digitally aided close air support standard, however even with a concerted effort by the U.S. Defense Department to standardize requirements, there continues to be longstanding issues with interoperability, including significant loss of key data and slow refresh rates. 


Today’s Link 16 networks typically support theaterwide engagements with situational awareness, command and control, and information exchange requirements (IERs) across the entire area of operations. It is this flexibility to meet the changing operational needs of the battlefield that has maintained its viability over the past 40 years.

The adoption of capability in so many emerging use cases is not accidental. It reflects the Link 16 community’s evolving understanding of the modern battlefield.

For instance, air-to-ground operations are being looked at in an entirely new way and opening up more uses for Link 16 with the latest enhancements that address the needs of warfighters on the ground. Unlike a pilot who can see or communicate with other aircraft up to hundreds of miles away, the Earth’s curvature and the local terrain limit dismounted ground forces’ ability to communicate. The distance and speed at which they maneuver impacts their IERs, including how often their position must be updated.

Dismounted ground operations are the new frontier for the next generation of Link 16 systems. Unlike their larger airborne and naval predecessors, these nodes spend more of their time receiving transmissions from other platforms such as aircraft than transmitting themselves.

One of the challenges for operating in a ground or ground-to-air environment is signal clutter and interference. However, the particular band that Link 16 radios use is not cluttered with other battlefield users and is occupied by civilian air traffic navigation systems.

In addition, the inherent security characteristics of Link 16 can help with localized IERs. The anti-jamming frequency-hopping patterns, called Net Numbers, that Link 16 terminals use can be selected and employed to keep IERs separated, enabling the capability to support up to 127 separate nets.

The terminals also secure the information being transmitted. Different cryptographic keys and partitioned variable modes can isolate data while allowing for range extending relay. Timeslot reassignment pools can be designed to adapt to usage requirements, while contention pools can be employed for an information span that is geographically smaller.

While some experts believe Link 16 networks are oversubscribed, and this is often true for the theaterwide net, there are more than 100 available frequency pattern nets that typically are completely open. Further, like cellular or satellite communications systems, bandwidth can be divided and shared across a theater.

As a result, a small ground unit can set up using a frequency pattern for its communications or Link 16 system. Tens of miles away, another unit can set up its net, and the two nets will not interfere with each other. This is one network management option the U.S. Defense Department is now examining to support ground communications during operations.

The new capabilities that are being delivered by the next generation of Link 16 terminals, combined with the expansion of Link 16 into new domains, allow Link 16 to be available for integration into new types of platforms and nodes that will be entering service in the coming years. The tactical data link, which demonstrated its flexibility to meet the changing operational needs of the battlefield, is now directly in the hands of warfighters at the tactical edge.

More details about next-generation Link 16 terminals are available in the SIGNAL Resource Library.

Departments: 

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