Connectivity, Interoperability Issues Focus Conference Priorities

April 2005
By Henry S. Kenyon

Leaders to discuss latest operational requirements.

Military and government decision makers convene at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center next month to discuss requirements in current operations and to explore hundreds of technical solutions. TechNet International 2005, which takes place May 17-19, will address the issues that commanders know from experience are real challenges facing warfighters today.

To ensure that the conference meets the needs of participants, AFCEA International went to the people who understand the concerns of today’s military best. Commanders shared their thoughts in response to a survey conducted by the association, and this input is the basis of the presentations and panel discussions as well as the technologies that will be demonstrated in the Solutions Showcase.

Responses to the questionnaire identify a multitude of requirements that range from increasing bandwidth to improving sensor capabilities. Immediate needs include collaborative technologies for military and homeland security applications. Also high on the government’s priority list is the ongoing development of advanced network management and information assurance tools. Other needs include logistics tracking capabilities, support systems for joint and coalition operations, information-sharing technologies, and over-the-horizon communications and situational awareness tools.

Technologies with military, law enforcement and first responder applications continue to garner decision makers’ interest. Two panels at TechNet 2005 are devoted to discussing how network-centric technologies can be applied to homeland and global security. One discussion will focus on the ongoing initiative to improve the U.S. Coast Guard’s capabilities through vessel-tracking and information-sharing systems that would record and flag anomalous behavior and share the data with other agencies.

Keeping track of vessels once they are in U.S. waters also remains a priority for the security of ports, inland waterways and the critical infrastructure they access. This need serves as a catalyst for developing and procuring enhanced security systems. These activities complement additional requirements for technologies that can efficiently scan vessels for contraband and weapons of mass destruction. Another topic cited in the survey is the continuing need for real-time personnel identification systems such as reliable biometric technologies.

Detecting and classifying radiological sources that could be used in weapons of mass destruction remains a focus of federal research agendas. A related technology that would aid military forces and disaster relief agencies is an application that can quickly identify and trace the source of a radiological dispersal. Survey respondents indicated that such a system should also allow the development of accurate damage predication and response techniques.

The U.S. military continues to refine the definition of network-centric operations and its operational requirements. The services remain interested in information management systems to improve access to data stores and automated delivery of information to handheld wireless devices. Collaboration between information sharing and retrieval systems would provide commanders and intelligence analysts with enhanced situational awareness. Other development requirements include integrated and distributed conferencing capabilities for widely dispersed forces as well as search engines and data tagging capabilities for rapid information sharing.

As in previous years, enterprise-level issues such as network security continue to dominate forum discussions. The AFCEA survey reveals a demand for enterprisewide threat management capabilities such as safeguards to prevent data from being moved from classified Web servers to unclassified networks. Other considerations include research into new intrusion detection technologies and the security and economic benefits of trusted workstations.

The efficient management of enterprise-level networks is a perennial research subject for government agencies and warfighters. Survey respondents expressed a need for automated tools to monitor networks and reduce manpower requirements, an important issue during a period of lean government and extended military deployments. Other technologies that leaders want to see developed in this area include a universal software protocol that would allow trusted users to access all computer systems they are authorized to use automatically, obtain network status reports and utilize network connectivity tools. Also of interest are automated security tools and enhanced firewall designs.

Additional network management concerns reflect the need for more interoperability based on open standards and architectures to support multisource content and to integrate commercial applications rapidly. The continuing efforts to enhance information sharing between government agencies and intelligence analysts are behind calls for Web-enabled data discovery, access and retrieval tools.

Commanders indicated that knowledge management tools to help channel the flood of incoming data generated by sensors and data feeds are a growing need. The development of knowledge-based tools, such as automatic data indexing, attribution and metadata tagging, also is viewed as vital to large-scale data-centric environments.

The recurring need for enterprise-level management motivates the desire for visualization tools that can manipulate geospatial data for collaborative analysis and planning. Managing this information in specially designed, scalable geospatial storage technologies also remains a priority.

TechNet 2005 panels will focus on these network-centric technology issues from a combatant’s perspective. The AFCEA survey uncovered a continuing need for systems integration in areas such as airborne networking. For example, the rapid proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles as the military’s battlefield surveillance platform of choice continues to drive efforts to coordinate airborne drones and manned platforms effectively.

Communications interoperability is key to linking tactical networks. Areas of ongoing activity include programs such as the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), which will reduce the number and types of radios carried on aircraft and by ground units. Software communications architectures and advanced radio antenna technologies will allow systems like JTRS to offer ground forces additional flexibility and reachback capabilities.

Interoperability needs also extend to joint and coalition operations and command and control. As in previous years, survey respondents indicated the importance of continuing military efforts to acquire sophisticated mission-planning systems capable of factoring in variables such as weather and terrain. These technologies could possibly become part of a global operational picture, allowing commanders to plan complex operations on the fly from their desktops.

Joint operations are still generating new requirements for information-sharing tools. For example, warfighters stress the need for a linked system to provide planners with accurate, local area assessments of possible threats. This application would be regularly updated and would provide users with pertinent information about a particular town, city or region of the world. Using data provided by the U.S. Defense Department and coalition partners, the system would present information about the area such as the major religion, known terrorist and extremist groups, languages spoken, population demographics, known safe areas and hostile zones.

Although a number of technologies and systems are being developed to support warfighters, some respondents to AFCEA’s survey said that recent combat experiences in Iraq highlight the necessity for a variety of immediate solutions such as inexpensive handheld radios with Type I encryption. Survey participants noted that troops in the field either use nonsecure commercial systems for short-range communications or rely on more expensive encrypted equipment. Their comments reveal the desire for a system that combines both capabilities at low cost.

Operations in Iraq also have drawn attention to a variety of communications shortfalls. These deficiencies include the lack of a multiband low-profile satellite antenna for vehicles, enterprise voice over Internet protocol solutions that work in military enterprise systems and affordable secure wireless local area networks for mobile operations. Increasingly, experience confirms the importance of security for military networks. Many of the commercial applications the services use to meet the growing demand for connectivity are not encrypted. Commanders expressed a need for embedding communications security systems adopted by the services.

The concept of free-space optics—using lasers to link communications nodes—is being considered for a variety of last-mile applications. Although the technology is currently in limited use, leaders would like to expand its operational distances to free up bandwidth on line-of-sight radio frequencies.

Commanders also wished for adequate power supplies for network-centric equipment. Army units require standardized power distribution systems that can support the increasing volume of commercial equipment used in the field. Power requirements for heating and cooling are beginning to outstrip the U.S. Army’s generator capabilities, highlighting a need for lightweight generators to support these demands.

TechNet 2005 attendees will hear panel discussions and presentations and view technology demonstrations addressing many of these requirements. In addition to these sessions, free professional development mini-courses will afford participants a sample of the full-length classes AFCEA offers throughout the year.

Speakers Highlight TechNet Agenda

TechNet 2005, “Network Centric Operations: Balancing Speed and Agility With Security,” features a stellar lineup of expert speakers. Headlining the roster is Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Others include Rear Adm. Thomas E. Zelibor, USN, director of global operations, U.S. Strategic Command; Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, USA, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Benjamin S. Griffin, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Materiel Command; and Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC, director for command, control, communications and computer systems (J-6), The Joint Staff.

TechNet 2005 also offers a variety of panels and events. Panels include sessions on enterprise views of network-centric warfare, global security in a network-centric environment, network centricity, network-centric operations in support of homeland security, network-enabled operations from combatants’ perspectives and the J-6 panel moderated by Gen. Shea.

In addition to speakers and panels, TechNet 2005 will offer free Professional Development Center mini-courses on data and applications security and an introduction to net-centric warfare.


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