While information technology experts have been hard at work securing the national infostructure, other key sectors in the United States' vital infrastructure may be vulnerable to attack through their own information systems. Critical elements such as ports, railroads, the electrical grid, fuel pipelines and hazardous materials facilities may be equipped with information systems that are virtual open doors to malicious marauders ranging from rookie hackers to al-Qaida terrorists.
The U.S. Defense Department has launched a new policy initiative designed to provide increased security and interoperability for wireless devices and systems. The undertaking provides rules for the use of commercial wireless equipment on government networks and emphasizes the adoption of open standards for wireless technologies.
The latest version of a widely used commercial communications standard may soon provide U.S. troops with faster, more efficient networking technologies. Designed to greatly improve data throughput rates, the new rule also offers potentially greater operating ranges than current networks. However, the rule faces several challenges from developers before it can be fully approved.
After years of discussion, some military experts still disagree about the next step for the Operationally Responsive Space concept. While many believe the time for study and analysis is over, others say questions remain about the details of the capability's benefits for warfighting. Despite these differences, all agree that the time to move forward is now and that funding remains one of the biggest impediments to progress.
Law enforcement agencies are benefiting from mesh network technologies developed originally for military use. Private industry is modifying versions of these types of communications systems to allow police and other public workers to share vital information more quickly and reliably than through cellular communications. The benefits are evident. While cellular communications rely on a central tower to relay messages that can become backlogged in emergency situations, mesh networks avoid this inherent problem by employing multiple routers set up around an area that allow messages to find alternative wireless paths to recipients.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is using a bottom-up technique to protect the nation by working with local first responders to develop standards and a way for jurisdictions to communicate with one another. Under the Safecom initiative, the department is helping states develop strategic plans to improve statewide interoperable communications.
The U.S. Justice Department is facing problems similar to those of the U.S. Defense Department as it tries to enable communications interoperability among civilian public safety organizations. It must ensure that any of thousands of different communications systems can interoperate during times of crisis, but those systems often have been procured independently without any applied standards.
Scientists in the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research are developing new virtual reality simulations that address the needs of land-based warriors such as U.S. Marines. These simulations seek to reproduce various motions and scenarios as faithfully as battlefield conditions.
Conversations with computers are usually pretty one-sided: Users may yell obscenities; cursors continue to blink innocuously. But a collaborative effort between the military and industry may one day replace this one-way, futile discourse with systems that understand the user's cognitive state and then respond accordingly. The implications of this capability reach beyond ensuring that warfighters are primed to receive critical information. It could prove to be instrumental to inventing ways of designing new systems and improving military training.
Coordinating evolving operational and technical requirements between government agencies and allied nations was the focus of AFCEA's Transformation TechNet 2006 conference and exposition. Held in Hampton, Virginia, in May, the two-day event's theme was "TEAM Transformation … A Must for International Security." Conference topics addressed the various joint and cooperative efforts underway among government, military, industry and international organizations.