Now that the U.S. Defense Department has its arms around the challenge of moving vital information down to the individual warfighter, it is facing a new challenge of sharing information with nonmilitary, non-U.S. organizations. This latest priority reflects the diversity of operations that the military might find itself involved with for the foreseeable future.
A family of software-based radios designed specifically for export will allow many nations to acquire network-centric capabilities for their ground forces. Built around a waveform engineered to meet international standards, the radios permit legacy equipment to interoperate with other national or coalition systems in ad hoc mobile communications networks.
Missile launch teams vital to defending the United States would not think of pushing the fateful button without first double-checking the reliability of their equipment and data. But until recently, the U.S. Air Force Space Command had no way to conduct comparable checks of its vastly distributed information networks. Instead, it had to contact the appropriate person at distant locations to get a handle on the operational capabilities available in approximately 175 stovepiped mission-specific applications and systems.
A newly established government agency is helping the U.S. Defense Department transform the way it does business. The organization is charged with improving how the military tracks and valuates its many assets and how it purchases equipment. Reporting directly to Congress, the agency is mandated to meet tight deadlines and to maintain maximum transparency in its operations.
This year's Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration was just as much about evaluating the event itself as it was about evaluating technologies. Although the 2006 format mirrored previous years' activities, the lessons learned during the first time the execution phase was hosted outside the United States could help improve the annual undertaking by broadening the focus to boost international interoperability. Event leaders are recommending several changes for future demonstrations, including increasing the number of countries that participant; linking the demonstration to Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics programs; and improving the coordination between the U.S. and NATO's Allied Command Transformation.
Despite years of discussion on the topic, the U.S. Defense Department is keeping its focus on interoperability. However, the department has undergone a shift from efforts directed primarily at developing the technology necessary to make broad intercommunications possible to work that concentrates on establishing the policies and doctrine necessary for communicators to use available resources.
Succeeding in the new strategic environment requires levels of responsiveness and agility never before demanded of our forces. The U.S. Defense Department must transform from its historical emphasis on ships, guns, tanks and planes to a focus on information, knowledge and actionable intelligence.
Binoculars may become the U.S. Navy's next tactical communications system. A prototype technology allows optical viewing systems to transmit voice, video and data communications on a beam of non-laser light. The equipment can be easily fitted to any commercially available binoculars and provides warfighters with a way to coordinate operations without relying on radios.
Military and humanitarian relief personnel now can reach out from the field more easily with a product that combines voice and data communications capabilities in a single box. The approximately 65-pound kit is field portable, ruggedized and self-cooling. It uses open architecture standards and can be applied to hastily formed networks, military operations, disaster response and medical relief efforts.
NATO nations are incorporating new military and commercial technologies to extend both the capabilities and the reach of the alliance's communications and information systems. But, many technological challenges lie ahead before the alliance and other allied nations can interoperate in coalition operations. And some cultural barriers found at the heart of intelligence and military operations remain to be overcome.