Comprehensive Forum Explores Current, Future Challenges

June 2000
By Maryann Lawlor
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Demonstrations, panel discussions and mini-courses offer all-encompassing approach to examining issues.

A multifaceted one-stop shop that matches technology requirements identified by top government and military officials with available and emerging industry solutions will enable TechNet International 2000 attendees to home in on answers to critical questions confronting governments throughout the world.

This year’s format will enable visitors to target the technologies that are of primary interest to them. In addition, topics recognized as critical to mission success by chief information officers and other technology specialists will be the focus of discussions between military and government officials during five panels that will be offered during the three-day event. And, for the first time, this year’s conference will feature opportunities for professional development in the form of mini-courses taught by recognized experts.

Today, information technology has become the communications bridge between individuals and governments even in the far reaches of the world. Businesses, military services and governments alike recognize that working in isolation is no longer an option if success is to be achieved. In light of this new global order, organizers of TechNet designed this year’s event to meet the needs of the joint community and the worldwide marketplace in an era of increasing cooperative ventures involving several companies. This year’s theme, “Coalition Operations in the New Millennium,” is the vehicle to bring it all together.

According to Lt. Gen. John A. Dubia, USA (Ret.), vice president for operations, AFCEA International, the convention is a microcosm of the environment that the association seeks to create as it does its work throughout the year and throughout the world. “As an organization, AFCEA’s purpose is to provide a forum and act as an integrator by providing military and government officials at all levels with a way to share their concerns and their priorities with the solution providers. At the same time, industry not only has the opportunity to find out the current requirements but also has the venue to share their approaches to fulfilling some of those requirements,” he explains.

“This year, to help us design an event that would be sure to benefit all participants, we went out to the senior government officials and asked them to identify what they believe are the top technology challenges they face today. This information was then used to develop a comprehensive program, not just exhibits, that would address these concerns at multiple levels. The result is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts,” he adds.

Officials were not shy about sharing their thoughts on the technological challenges they see now and predict for the future. Results from the survey identified several common issues backed up by details about the programs and operations that leaders are involved in directing. Many of these officials and members of their senior staffs will attend TechNet searching for specific technological capability sets and solutions that address these issues. To facilitate the search, the exhibit floor, which has now been more appropriately named the Solutions Showcase, will highlight specific capabilities through Tech-Talk Theatre. These designated areas will be a forum in which companies can present their offerings.

Bandwidth, information management, information assurance, knowledge management, human-machine interfaces and support infrastructure are among the problems leaders enumerated.

Officials agreed that new systems—such as those required for power projection, logistics and electronic commerce—impose ever-increasing traffic loads on communications systems. Specific items include bandwidth at sea, the global information grid, over-the-horizon capabilities, handheld devices and visualization tools.

While information technology provides access to a wealth of information, many organizations find that being inundated with data can be as challenging as not having enough information, officials say. As a result of this dilemma, a new term has been coined and is under discussion among experts in every field—knowledge management. Much data is being collected, and managing the numerous repositories of this data is an issue leaders would like to see addressed with capabilities that make the appropriate information accessible to the right person at the time that it is needed. Government officials are interested in tools that will allow their personnel to find what they need quickly and use it in collaborative environments to streamline the decision-making process.

Information assurance has become an issue at every organizational level and in every venue where information technology is used. Today, systems and networks provide an unparalleled capability to the battlefield and the boardroom. However, this very connectivity leaves commands as well as companies open to remote attacks. Senior military officials are interested in solutions that engage voice or handwriting recognition capabilities, public key infrastructure, smart cards and mobile codes.

Computers have revolutionized the relationship between man and machine, and the interfaces that connect the two can be especially challenging in a combat environment. From verification of identification to hands-free mobile computing, military leaders have requested demonstrations of capabilities that will bring the benefits of information technology to the soldier regardless of the location. Geospatial information interfaces, automated identification technology, target recognition, algorithm queuing and machine translation of languages are all issues that senior officials would like industry to address.

Underlying all of the key technologies used in the government and by the military is the support infrastructure. While it may not be considered the flashiest level of technology, nothing works without it. Among the solutions government officials are searching for are better power sources, new battery technology, techniques for lowering power requirements and solar or fuel-cell capabilities.

TechNet attendees will have the opportunity to view many other capabilities offered by companies that address identified requirements. Some of these companies are involved in developmental projects for specific technologies ordered by the government. However, the Solutions Showcase will feature the integration and utilization of commercial technologies, spectral and motion imagery, customer service technologies, collaborative environments and wireless equipment.

Because companies have the benefit of AFCEA’s recent requirements survey, they are able to tailor their presentations accordingly and will be demonstrating solutions to these challenges. In addition, several will be debuting new products at TechNet, and some organizations will use the conference as a venue to share information about products that are still under development in an effort to gain insight from users about the best way to proceed.

Gen. Dubia believes that while the technology demonstrations offer attendees the opportunity to examine products and their capabilities, the conference also will enable visitors to delve deeper into the issues that are critical to senior leaders. Panel discussions that are based on input from the survey will take participants to the next level and put technology into context, he says.

The growing emphasis by military leaders on joint forces makes these panel discussions useful for every rank of all armed services. In addition, industry representatives who are being asked to meet the needs of this evolving military structure benefit from understanding the interconnected issues that commanders confront as the services cooperate with each other and move into coalition environments.

Interoperability is a foundation of collaborative planning and multilateral operations. Two panel presentations will address this topic, each with a slightly different focus. Dawn Hartley, chief technology officer, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), will moderate a panel titled “Architecture and Interoperability.” Because the military leadership has placed a high priority on interoperability, it has come to the forefront of both technology and policy discussions, she says. Panelists will offer short presentations that will be followed by continued dialogue with each other and audience members.

Network-centric warfare will be the focal point of the “Command and Control” panel. Participants will explore interoperability from four perspectives: joint task force level, barriers, solutions for overcoming these barriers and mission capability.

Experts in information security agree that no silver bullet solution has been created. Consequently, as the need for network and information protection increases, the issues involved in this subject multiply. A panel led by Maj. Gen. John H. Campbell, USAF, vice director at DISA, will look at the challenge of creating a credible information assurance program from the perspectives of the commanders in chief, the services, the research and development community, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Growing involvement in operations other than war increases the challenges to the logistics community. While it is being asked to support humanitarian projects such as disaster relief, it is concurrently expected to be prepared to support military operations. “Logistics and Support” moderator Lt. Gen. John M. McDuffie, USA, director, J-4, the Joint Staff, says experts on this panel will primarily focus on the infusion of information technology to transform the entire logistics process in the U.S. Defense Department. Participants will examine network-centric logistics and the new standards that will apply to all joint warfighters.

The coalition environment poses special challenges to military intelligence experts. A panel led by Lt. Gen. Patrick M. Hughes, USA (Ret.), will explore the problems that an allied operation creates for the intelligence community and specifically delve into the demonstrated strengths and weaknesses of intelligence during recent operations.

The constantly changing political climate among allied nations can make coalition operations a challenge, Gen. Dubia says. But conferences such as TechNet offer people who may be asked to fight together on the battlefield the opportunity to get to know each other in a neutral, low-stress setting where they can share ideas and learn about and from each other, he adds.

A final element that completes TechNet’s comprehensive offerings this year are mini-courses offered on site through AFCEA’s Professional Development Center. According to Rear Adm. Paul E. Tobin, USN (Ret.), executive director, AFCEA Educational Foundation, continued professional development is as important for top-level executives as it is for technologists.

During the sessions, students will hear abbreviated lectures outlining the material normally presented in some of AFCEA’s several-day courses offered throughout the country. They will then have the opportunity to discuss the subject matter with each other and the instructor both one-on-one and in small groups.

Courses will include “Computers—Keeping Up With the Revolution,” “U.S. C4ISR,” “The U.S. Intelligence Community: Who Does What, With What, For What?” and “Global Command and Control System.”

Each four-hour mini-course will feature a flexible format, so students can attend only the sections of the course that interest them. No registration is required for these classes.

Gen. Dubia points out that fiscal constraints being experienced by the government make conferences such as TechNet increasingly critical in the decision-making process because they focus attention on the challenges that must be addressed both now and in the immediate future. “And, although technology businesses are doing well financially right now, they don’t have an unlimited pot of money to draw from either. So, if they know the specific requirements of the senior government officials, they can also make better business decisions. TechNet, like AFCEA, works as an integrator for these sectors,” he explains.