It is hard to believe that a full year has passed and this is my final column for SIGNAL. I have greatly enjoyed writing these pieces, and I thank AFCEA for this opportunity. I have enjoyed and been enlightened by your feedback—good and bad—and I very much appreciated many of the discussions that happened because of these columns. I would like to use this final column as a summary and a reminder of what I believe is coming with technology and with some social issues.
The past three decades have seen technologies rapidly transform the face of society. Robots, coupled with artificial intelligence, machine learning and other developing capabilities such as the Internet of Things (IoT), are among the latest technologies to offer the promise of labor-saving capabilities, improved efficiency in manufacturing, better precision in the medical field and enhanced capabilities in national security, to name just a few applications.
Close air support, or “CAS,” refers to air action that assists friendly forces on the ground. It may sound hard to believe, but the technology behind CAS hasn’t changed that much since World War II, when ground forces used smoke to show pilots their location.
The story of CAS revolves around two key players: the warfighter on the ground and the pilot flying a mission. The warfighter on the ground, often known as the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), is charged with directing the pilot to a specified mission target. Ed Priest, a member of the Viasat team, served as a JTAC in the U.S. Air Force for 25 years. He now works on supplying JTACs and pilots a better communications tool to coordinate mission strikes.
A U.S. military that has dropped its guard on advanced technology development must now steel itself to catch up to and overtake peer rivals that have capitalized on U.S. complacency to surge ahead in defense research and development. Taking back the initiative and restoring U.S. military supremacy will require rapid advances in space-based lasers, cyber countermeasures and hypersonic attack vehicles. And linking these systems will require communications capabilities that establish and maintain spectrum dominance.
An alternative to radio frequency-based communications, laser communications, or optic-based technologies, are emerging as another tool for warfighters.
Stakeholders across the laser communications sector have formed an industry group, known as the Laser Communications Coalition. At the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and AFCEA International’s MILCOM conference in Los Angeles on October 30, some stakeholders shared their view of the technology and market outlook for their optic-based communications equipment or services.
Researchers envision a day when shape-shifting materials, novel sensors and other interactive technologies replace the flat, insipid computer screen. Such advances will allow users to interact in a tactile manner, enhancing their understanding of information and data. Researchers on the cutting edge of human-computer interaction are working on physical representations of data or information. Computer scientists portend that computers can, and should, have an output of information that mirrors the adroitness and expressiveness of the human body.
Congress has increased emphasis on more rapid prototyping, including prototyping up through operational capability and more rapid acquisition. This focus will redefine how the U.S. Defense Department works with other parts of the government as well as with industry and academia, notes Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. The answers may lie in maximizing the innovative nature of researchers by clearing away the underbrush impeding their progress.
While the U.S. Defense Department struggles to connect tactical and strategic networks, industry has cracked the interoperability code. Commercial pressure to develop a digital ecosystem where any device delivers content across platforms and service providers has led to robust industry standards and intuitive application programming interfaces.
Increased interoperability and access, however, bring increased risk, which discourages the bridging of networks and enterprise services. Innovators must face these fears head-on. Strategic-tactical network integration requires a plan for analyzing risk, employing control measures, developing operating procedures and training across organizations.
Technology that allows easy renewal of CAC identification and a system to provide full virtual reality training on goggles prevailed in the premier AFCEA innovation shark tank of fiscal year 2019. Held October 25, the competition featured the first tie in an elimination round since the shark tanks began running earlier in 2018. Both technologies will advance to the final competition, which will be held in April 2019.
Implementing a new system can be an exciting time, but the nagging questions and doubts about the fate of data you’ve literally spent years collecting, organizing and storing can dampen this excitement.
This legacy data often comes from a variety of sources in different formats maintained by a succession of people. Somehow, all the data must converge in a uniform fashion, resulting in its utility in the new solution. Yes, it is hard work and no, it is not quick. Fortunately, this scrubbing and normalization does not have to be a chaotic process replete with multiple failures and rework.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a one-step approach to fabricating complex origami structures whose lightweight, expandability and strength could offer a wide range of benefits, including biomedical devices and equipment used in space exploration. Until now, making such structures has involved multiple steps, more than one material and assembly from smaller parts.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, known as the ATF, granted a Federal Explosives License to Aquabotix Ltd. The explosives license will allow the unmanned aquatic vehicle company to develop, manufacture, store and sell unmanned vehicles with explosive capabilities, according to a company statement.
Innovative pioneers looking to bring their ideas and concepts to reality are pushing the edge of aerospace capabilities. In some cases, the technologies are the result of university research, while others come from markets outside of defense. The entrepreneurs purport that their technologies will be, if not groundbreaking, useful and more efficient. The entrepreneurs presented their nascent products and discoveries at a pitch meeting hosted by The MITRE Corporation in McLean, Virginia on October 11 as part of Starburst Aerospace Accelerator’s annual East Coast Selection Committee event.
Historically, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has been the driver of technological innovation, inventing remarkable capabilities to empower warfighter mission effectiveness and improve warfighter safety. Yet over the past 25 years, a transformational shift has taken place in several key technology sectors, and technology leadership in these sectors is no longer being driven by the military, but rather by the private sector.
The move away from technologies meant for a static battlefield environment continues for the U.S. Marine Corps, as the service fields technologies needed for operating in austere environments.
Leaders want ruggedized and resilient technologies that are low in size, weight and power for soldiers on the move. The technology gaps to fill come across all aspects of command, control, communications and computing, or C4. Marine Corps leaders identified the service’s top technological needs during the Modern Day Marine event September 25-27 at the Marine Corps Quantico base.
This summer, the U.S. Marine Corps accepted delivery of five compact laser weapon systems, and is now considering many aspects of the weapon’s functionality. The service is looking for reliable, cost effective protection against the growing threat of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Steven Walker, pictures the future battlefield as a mosaic of lower-cost, less complex systems linked together in a vast number of ways to create desired, interwoven effects tailored to any scenario. The agency, known as DARPA, is standing up a new program office and investing in an array of technologies, from artificial intelligence to robotics to systems for hypersonic flight and space, to make that picture a reality.
The Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA, is applying both traditional and innovative infrastructure protection methods to its worldwide networking for U.S. defense installations. In some cases, conventional methods can hold services together. But in others, especially with cross-border telecommunications, DISA must secure its commercial connectivity without the benefit of the authorities inherent in a host country agency.
New ways of commercial networking widen the threat picture. Variety is the spice of vulnerability as networks evolve with innovative approaches. Having the right information for a network architecture is vital to moving information across global ranges, according to DISA officials.
In a world where the U.S. Defense Department is facing asymmetric threats, department leaders are counting on long-term research and development to provide primary solutions to protect the nation. For the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which has helped create technologies that have changed the course of history, the pressure is on to find the next significant contribution, says the laboratory’s director, Ralph Semmel. “When you look back in history, we had nine of those [groundbreaking technologies], so we are holding ourselves to a very high bar,” Semmel says. “But the key is that we don’t know which technology is actually going to turn into a defining innovation.”
The impact of world events on military operators in the field have made missions exponentially more demanding, and in tandem, the very simple concept of connectivity has transformed into a complex and challenging task. As new events occur around the globe, military and government users in remote and often hostile environments require instant and reliable connectivity empowered by robust intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor data. Resilient and secure satellite communications capabilities warfighters rely on also must be accessible at a moment’s notice.