If there is one issue that has been a common thread throughout the spread of military information systems over the past few decades, it is interoperability. What once was a nuisance quickly grew into a major challenge as we became more reliant on information technology to prevail in the way we fight. What once was a marginal issue grew to dominate command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) as a key requirement for all future systems. Yet, as interoperability continues to increase in importance, as a goal it remains stubbornly elusive.
Network-centric warfare proved to be a key enabler for U.S. special operations forces to rout the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to a general in the U.S. Special Operations Command. These forces were empowered by shared situational awareness and robust communications that allowed them to maximize the effects of air and naval support against Taliban positions.
Future commanders may benefit from an enhanced situational awareness and battlefield management system that fuses sensor and information feeds to create a coherent picture of an engagement. The system will permit data to be relayed, shared and analyzed by allied joint forces across multiple echelons.
By co-locating its intelligence and operations communities under one high-technology roof, the U.S. Marine Corps I Marine Expeditionary Force can now manage multiple missions from a single command center. Systems at the facility allow decision makers to review and analyze information pouring in from tactical network sensors and help the Marines plan and execute military operations, ensure base security and support localized efforts such as fighting forest fires.
Emergency responders now can count on priority cellular access in a pinch as the U.S. government establishes a wireless version of its Government Emergency Telecommunications Service. Known as the Wireless Priority System, or WPS, the new cellular system promises connectivity in a shirt pocket for authorized users ranging from the president down to a local fire chief.
Manufacturers are poised to release new equipment that will permit universal roaming for cellular telephone and mobile devices. Recent processor and software developments are leading to products that can operate across different global communications protocols.
Having effective sensors, fire control, ordnance and control systems is only part of the picture for building a capable shipboard combat system. The task that makes all of these play together is called combat system integration, or CSI.
The National Imagery and Mapping Agency is in the midst of a pivotal year as it creates its own functional identity as the geospatial intelligence provider for military and homeland security organizations. The agency will be looking for substantial support from the commercial sector-including foreign companies-while it transforms and concurrently meets the growing needs of the defense community.
The future role of information technology in support of homeland security and the war on terrorism initiatives will be the focus of TechNet International 2003, May 6-8. In its new venue-the recently opened Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.-AFCEA International will offer three days of information presentations and technology demonstrations in an integrated setting.
Although industry shoulders the ultimate responsibility for the health and well-being of the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure, the federal government is working to ensure the continued operation of systems that touch almost every aspect of life-from emergency services to economic stability. Key among the government's concerns are the security and reliability of the systems on which national security and emergency preparedness depend.
The types of sonars equipping Chinese warships are a barometer of Chinese naval technology and antisubmarine capability. The evolution of Chinese sonar from old Soviet equipment to series production, to indigenous designs, to French examples and finally to modern Russian vessels with sonar suites parallels Chinese naval progress. Just as these systems have grown from secondhand gear to indigenous designs supplemented by up-to-date foreign technologies, so has the Chinese navy transitioned to a force designed to serve the nation's maritime needs.
Flush with voluminous databases of varied geospatial imagery and data, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency is equipping its customers with both reach-back capabilities and on-location expertise. The agency is tapping diverse sources of digitized imagery and terrain data so that it can generate multidimensional products for customers at all levels of government and the military.
More than 10 years of hardware, software and signal processing upgrades have transformed the Patriot missile system into an effective defensive shield against short-range and theater tactical missiles. The original system that achieved partial success in the 1991 Gulf War became a bulwark in the Iraq War, effectively neutralizing Saddam Hussein's theater ballistic missile threat.
A few weeks ago, there was a story on the evening news about a waitress in Texas whose son is a Marine stationed in Iraq. Although his unit could communicate with the higher echelons, its members were having difficulty communicating with each other while on the battlefield. He asked his mom to go to a local electronics store, buy a set of walkie-talkies and send them to him. She was happy to help the war effort, but what she didn't anticipate was the hit the equipment would be with her son's buddies who wanted walkie-talkies of their own.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, fresh from assuming a new name less than a year ago, is striving to meet several self-imposed goals to address shortcomings and to confront the challenges of 21st century network-centric warfare. On its to-do list are converting fully to digital products and services; pursuing an e-business model; and transforming its architecture. It also seeks to pursue advanced forms of geospatial intelligence, including electromagnetic spectrum, and to mature the ability to capitalize on airborne collection. And, the agency's leadership foresees a need for two new headquarters facilities to deal with burgeoning responsibilities and an increased terror threat.
A Web-based decision support system developed by private industry and university researchers allows government and military emergency responders to build situational awareness pictures of an unfolding crisis. The support tool taps data from diverse sources, translates it to a common database and presents it according to user needs.
U.S. legislators are fighting to secure information systems on two fronts: the federal government and the private sector. And, they are worried that the government is underachieving badly at a most crucial time for information security.
The future of the network may be wireless, but without security there can be no wireless network access for the military, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The department has issued a set of guidelines establishing policy for the use of commercial wireless technologies in the Global Information Grid, or GIG. The goal is to exploit the advantages of emerging wireless technologies without compromising the very core of the military's network-centric doctrine.
The U.S. Defense Department and defense contractors are learning a lesson about security from the financial world. In a current government-industry project, authentication experts in both communities are examining how to create a cross-credentialing approach that will facilitate access to military, government and corporate facilities while at the same time boost security. The effort does not focus on issuing yet another security token but rather on establishing standard processes. These processes foster a level of trust that can be accepted between agencies and companies.
The U.S. government is growing concerned about a family of computer programs that can infiltrate and compromise system integrity. These programs attach to a host computer during Internet browsing and send data to a third party about how that machine is operated. Although most of this code is used for legitimate business or marketing purposes, many types can circumvent firewall protections, leading to security breaches.