Force transformation and ongoing military operations are both complementing and competing for new information technology system development. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are validating many concepts and technologies, but requirements emerging from those fronts threaten to derail intricate long-term plans for modernizing the force across network-centric lines.
A broad-based initiative underway in the U.S. Defense Department aims to ensure that all of the data amassed and processed in the future battlespace truly can become useful knowledge to all U.S. forces. This effort is trying to make all data sources, correlators and user interfaces resident on the defense network so that a user could select those best suited for his or her requirements.
The restructuring of U.S. troops into small, agile fighting forces and the multinational, multicultural nature of today's decision making military teams are adding entirely new dimensions to knowledge management and collaboration in the military. Command and control decision makers must discard the strategies that worked for large forces prepared to fight on a designated front line and explore new tactics. Concurrently, they find themselves working in a collaborative environment rife with language barriers, experiential differences and hidden agendas. Technology can help break through some of these barriers, so researchers are examining team decision-making dynamics so they can determine which knowledge management tools are likely to be most effective.
The key to understanding and processing information may lie not in new technologies or advanced system architectures, but instead in the secret of effective storytelling. It also might be found just as easily in the classification of ideas, in the semantics of the Web, or even in the ability to pass personal lessons learned on to others. Or, this key could be an as-yet undiscovered aspect of knowledge management that only now is emerging in this information age.
The installation of a fiber optic network has vastly improved communications capabilities for troops fighting in Iraq. Military expertise, commercial technology, hard work and a bit of creativity have resulted in a reliable infrastructure that warfighters at all levels have come to depend on and expect. And, upgrades at command posts have freed up equipment that can be used at forward operating bases.
A rapidly evolving operational environment and new mission priorities are blurring the distinction between the U.S. National Guard, Reserve and active duty forces. As these units continue to operate together, efforts by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Defense Department will further integrate the different branches of the military through a common payroll system and an occupational skills database.
New data collection technology can provide a virtual image of a crime scene to give a visual representation of the scenario in criminal cases. This technology, which uses a pen-based computer, is being developed with input from law enforcement communities to help investigators and officers in the field.
Field operatives can share the capabilities of their headquarters counterparts to access and cross-reference law enforcement data from large archives or active files. Software capable of running on commercial off-the-shelf hardware allows collection and dissemination of vital police information from diverse sources without overwhelming its user.
The Defense Department is striving to link its diverse battlefield communications through a single system based on an airborne platform. This system would be capable of providing connectivity among radio and cellular telephony users while loitering over a theater of operations, and its capabilities could also be applied to intelligence collection and dissemination.
The advent of increasingly sophisticated threat organizations as well as the need to interoperate with technologically mature militaries are impelling many nations to acquire highly capable communications systems that are available from only a few sources. One system, the PRC2100V Spectre V, is the latest in a series of tactical voice and data communications systems and was designed primarily for use by countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as in emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe.