Technologies--Not All of Them Military--Will Rule the Future Battlespace

May 18, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Online Show Coverage
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Joint Warfighting 2012 Online Show Daily: Day 3

Quote of the Day: “What if companies like Google were to become national technical means? It’s not a hypothetical question; it’s happening now.”—Michael T. Jones, chief technology advocate for Google Ventures

The information technology revolution that has defined the globalization of society may pale in comparison to its successor in the coming years. New capabilities that build on existing systems will vie with emerging laboratory advances to present military forces with myriad opportunities and challenges.

Among the opportunities will be global situational awareness and ubiquitous networking. Among the challenges will be global situational awareness and ubiquitous networking. Some of these advances will prove a double-edge sword in that they will mandate adjustments for their proper use and can be exploited by an adversary. Regardless, they will require a new way of doing business both for their use and for countermeasures against them.

These visions in the technology crystal ball were discussed on the final day of Joint Warfighting 2012 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. A program slightly shorter than that of the first two days nonetheless produced much discussion that likely will carry over well beyond the event’s end.

The impact of commercial technologies on military operations was extended far beyond traditional paradigms in the opening address by Michael T. Jones, chief technology advocate for Google Ventures. Jones described several efforts underway by Google to provide increased global situational awareness, and he also offered his views on what they might mean to national security efforts worldwide.

The broad availability of geospatial information is turning providers such as Google into more than just media engines. “What if companies like Google were to become national technical means? It’s not a hypothetical question—it’s happening now,” Jones declared.

Google is about to launch a new maritime situational awareness system that will track every ship in the world through its onboard Automatic Identification System transponder. In a few weeks, two Google microsats will allow 1 billion users to follow ship passages around the globe, including military vessels. This is a capability that the military has wanted, but hasn’t had. Now it will, but so will anyone else who accesses the Google site.

Ahead lies an even more ambitious project. Google has built a small sonar buoy that can generate imagery of the ocean floor with 5-centimeter resolution. As this buoy becomes more ubiquitous, it undoubtedly will image objects that some countries will not want located—such as de-orbited reconnaissance satellites or old chemical weapons dumps.

This information also would be available to anyone, and Google has opened a dialogue with the U.S. government about the sudden ubiquity of this kind of information. But that does not remove the threat of others using the data. “If we were the Chinese government, we wouldn’t have that dialogue,” Jones points out. “If Google can do it, so can the Chinese, and they won’t have that dialogue.”

Other projects loom, and the military should learn from this use of consumer data. “If a consumer company can build these things on the side, why can’t you?” he asked of the military.

 Discussing issues surrounding the new Air-Sea Battle concept are (l-r) panel moderator Lt. Col. Frank Hoffman, USMCR (Ret.), former senior director, Naval Capabilities and Readiness, Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy and director, National Defense University Press; Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, USN (Ret.), former commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet; and Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF (Ret.), former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, U.S. Air Force.

The military will be counting on many commercial information technology products to help it transform in the coming years. This effort will focus on the new Air-Sea Battle concept that is to serve as the core overseas U.S. military capability. Achieving that goal will require new technologies as well as new ways of procuring and implementing them.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF (Ret.), former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, U.S. Air Force, pointed out that Air-Sea Battle will require revolutionary networking capabilities. These would include information processing and exploitation on the system before data is sent to the user. Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, USN (Ret.), former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, predicted the emergence of self-forming networks, standing jammers and electronic attacks. “Air-Sea Battle is our chance to start getting our arms around all these pieces,” he said.

Addressing concerns that the doctrine is aimed at one country—China—the admiral stated that Air-Sea Battle is meant to be a strategic concept. It is not just about China.

Gen. Deptula elaborated that the success of U.S.-led operations in Kuwait and Iraq have shown the world how effective the U.S. military is when forces are allowed time to build up in strength before striking in a remote region. Many potential adversaries have taken note and are structuring their forces to deny access to allied militaries into a conflict region.

“We now realize that we have to adjust to countries trying to deny us access,” Gen. Deptula explained. “It [Air-Sea Battle] aims at any country that would want to deny us access. It could be anywhere. The idea is to build capabilities that would be so overwhelming that no nation would attempt to deny us access.”

The general emphasized the need for new approaches to force architecture and system acquisition. “We have to think out of the box,” he said. “We are not going to be able to get through the resource constraints just by buying less of what we already have. We have to open ourselves to new ways of doing business.”

The old ways of doing business have been under attack for years, but the need for reform still exists. A panel on acquisition concluded that acquisition is not broken, but it needs fixing. This is all the more important as budgetary constraints are exerting pressure on efforts to transform the force with new technologies for emerging missions such as Air-Sea Battle.

“Oversight has run amok,” said Vice Adm. Walter M. Skinner, USN, principal military assistant to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “There it too much oversight in the current system. Somewhere between too much oversight and not enough oversight, we have to come together among the parties.”

Adm. Skinner noted that the military can field systems quickly when necessary, and he cited the mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle as an example. Still, speed of acquisition remains a major issue in the information-driven force.

“It annoys me that Moore’s Law changes computing power on a ship every 18 months, but it takes me 10 years to make those changes on a ship,” the admiral stated.


Mark your calendars now for Joint Warfighting 2013, to be held in Virginia Beach on May 16-18.