Another View: Commercial innovation fosters modern warfare

Kasrl Jensen

One of the remarkable qualities of the information technology revolution is its ability to disperse benefits across mass markets with great speed. Today, more than a third of the homes in the U.S. enjoy broadband, multimegabyte-per-second data connectivity to the Internet'a capability that unleashes stunning advances in the available types of content and communications. What's most astonishing: This proliferation of last-mile broadband bandwidth has happened so fast. Only a few years ago, 56-kilobyte modems were deemed the gold standard. Now they're quaint reminders of an Internet that's long past.

There is a certain irony here. The topologies, rules and principles known as the Internet spring from Department of Defense initiatives tracing back to the early 1960s. Yet it's obvious today's commercial Internet has left its Defense heritage in the digital dust. Today, a 15-year-old video game enthusiast with a broadband Internet connection has at his fingertips more raw bandwidth and communications power than is possessed by most warfighters engaged in military missions and operations.

That's no knock on the innovations that have propelled the modern commercial Internet. Quite the opposite. As our defense strategy moves away from conventional warfare toward a more network-centric approach, we are fortunate in being able to borrow from the expertise and market-tested work that has been conducted in the commercial marketplace. All that expertise can be applied to a more mobile, more tactical and more effective military.

The timing is right. Today, new network management technology is producing tremendous improvements in the security, efficiency and robustness of IP-based networks. We are getting smart at teaching networks how to parcel out bandwidth and resources depending on what applications are traversing them, and making priority assignments to rank users, rather than doling out raw bandwidth in a nondiscerning manner.

These technological breakthroughs in the commercial world dovetail with a transformative effort under way now to reshape how the military communicates with its tens of thousands of warfighters deployed around the world. There is a growing recognition that an agile, interoperable system of communications is critical for national defense. As acting CIO for the Defense Department Linton Wells II told the House Armed Services Committee in March, 'the network is emerging as the single most important contributor to combat power and protection.'

On the battlefield, dynamic network management can give warfighters reliable and predictable communications to perform missions even in the most demanding environments. The warfighter who watches a real-time video display of the nearby landscape on a hand-held device will do so because the network knows enough to allocate the bandwidth where its needed despite inevitable oversubscription or transport layer failures. That the video feed flows uninterrupted is in part the product of years of commercial-market experience involving detailed tracking of peak-de- mand trends, latency-management techniques, automated error correction and a host of technologies that have proven their mettle in real-world circumstances.

By leveraging the experience and expertise of world-class telecommunications, data-networking and information technology providers, the U.S. military will be better able to develop a secure, interoperable, high-capacity communications network that can send and receive voice, video and data intelligence. Efforts like these will ensure that the innovation unleashed decades ago by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency can return to benefit national defense interests in a new age of mobile warfare. Access to information is among the most powerful of weapons. It's our obligation to make sure our forces are well armed.

Karl Jensen is director of advanced solutions for Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems.

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