DOD's new frontiers - SPOTLIGHT

Imagine if you will a robotic rucksack—a rugged, highly mobile,
computerized device dutifully trailing an officer around a 21st century battlefield and
carrying most of the load. A kind of digital Jeeves.

Welcome to the world of the Defense Department’s new high-tech frontier.

The robotic rucksack was one of the scores of ideas—real and surreal—conjured
up for warfighters of the future by players in the Army’s avant-garde Technology
Seminar Game, staged recently at the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

Organized by the Army assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition,
this most cerebral of war games assembled 60 players from industry, the Army and agencies
such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health.

The purpose of the games was for players to apply systems concepts to a series of
warlike missions or vignettes and devise technological solutions to support the
Army’s vision for warfighting in 2025 and beyond, the Army After Next.

Organizers will issue a report next month identifying the most promising ideas that
emerged from the brainstorming sessions and recommend priorities for development for the
Army After Next—or sooner, if practical.

Teams of players received 64 systems concepts cards, each of which listed technologies
that might be applied to solve problems posed by the war games. Players also could create
their own systems cards and technological solutions.

After scrapping cards deemed inappropriate to the mission at hand, players rated the
remaining concepts based on criteria such as importance to Army After Next objectives,
cost in terms of timeliness and risk, potential funding sources, production costs and
critical technologies.

The notion of a robotic rucksack underscored the kind of technological creativity
players brought to the game, said Jim Blackwell, assistant vice president of the Strategic
Assessment Center at Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego. SAIC helped
design and plan the game.

“Everything technologically was up for grabs,” he said.

“It was exciting to look across the broader spectrum of technologies, systems
concepts and supporting or enabling technologies and get perspectives from labs and
industries, both commercial as well as defense industries, which we perhaps hadn’t
captured before,” said Walter Morrison, acting chief of the Army Research
Laboratory’s Terminal Effects Division in Aberdeen, Md.

Players also pondered what a 2025 military Internet would look like. “There would
be thousands of servers, and hundreds of mobile nodes, all moving around the battlefield
in three dimensions,” Blackwell said.

Meditating on bandwidth requirements, many gamers heard for the first time about
something called quantum processing, a new concept NASA is looking at.

“It’s an entirely different approach to how you put more signals down a
single wire or strand of fiber,” Blackwell said. “There’s no test bed or
practical demonstration of quantum processing, but one of the take-aways from the game for
the Army will be to look at whether quantum processing can be adopted for solving Army
communications problems. It’s an example of the kind of cross-fertilization between
agencies that happened in the context of this game.”

For 21st century warfighters, information technology will carry military operations, a
fact that became manifestly clear to those who participated in the Technology Seminar

“I was amazed at the incredible thread of information technology throughout
everything,” said Charles Miller, a retired Air Force colonel and assistant director
for U.S. strategic studies at SAIC.

“It didn’t matter what the functional area was, whether it was command and
control, mobility, survivability or lethality,” he said. “It’s the greatest
enabler of all the operational concepts involved here. IT just runs through it all.”

In these games are the digital seeds of future warfighting systems. To be sure, if past
is prologue, it’s difficult to find any better example than the military telegraph
network used at the Battle of Gettysburg.

In the 1860s, the telegraph was the razor’s edge of military networking,
furnishing real-time information to Union commanders making decisions on the battlefield
and letting them relay updates back to Washington.

Foreshadowing the 1s and 0s that pulse through digital systems today, telegraph signals
were sent in binary language, a series of 1s and 2s representing letters, over newly
developed insulated twisted copper wire that could be easily strung through trees or over

But President Lincoln, who haunted the War Department’s telegraph office while
awaiting the latest news from the front lines, could scarcely have imagined the
technologies that the late 20th century would bestow on the art of warfare.

Battle simulation, for instance. At the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.,
Marines augment their field training by using one of the latest simulated computer war
games, the Marine Tactical Warfare Simulator.

The $15 million system graphically simulates land, air and sea forces in gargantuan war
scenarios, designed principally to sharpen the skills of commanders and their staffs and
save some of the millions of dollars that actual training operations might cost.

At the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Md., a state-of-the-art modeling and
simulation facility uses high-performance computers to test aircraft and their subsystems
in simulated combat situations that are stunningly realistic.

The Air Combat Environment Test and Evaluation Facility’s Onyx2 graphics
supercomputers from Silicon Graphics Inc. provide the engine for the simulations, running
high-end applications such as computational fluid dynamics, computational electromagnetics
and acoustics, and graphics and signal processing programs.

But Defense isn’t using new-frontiers technology only for combat missions.

In Washington, the Army’s Medical Material Agency uses a videoconferencing system
to help maintain and repair medical equipment in Bosnia, Honduras and other remote areas
around the world.

And at the Defense Information Systems Agency in Washington, Frank Doe, chief of the
Counter-Drug Integration Division, administers a global network that lets about 50
customer agencies—federal, state and local—share data about aerial and maritime
transit of illegal drugs.

Turning data into knowledge, Doe said, represents the “pinnacle of the information
systems architecture.”

At Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., a new document management system is making it easier
for U.S. Space Command systems engineers to turn data into knowledge about the North
American Aerospace Defense Command warning network’s technical configurations and

Replacing a paper process riddled with redundant and sometimes contradictory data
describing the network’s configurations, the new system, called the Integrated Weapon
System Database, automates document management, stores the information in a relational
database and lets engineers view the documentation via the Web.

As Lt. Gen. Montgomery Meigs, commander of the Army Combined Arms Center at Fort
Leavenworth, Kan., has said, defense systems are more than “piles of bits.” They
are the process of turning that data into knowledge of the enemy.

“We can’t think that warfare is a game of algorithms,” he told an
audience at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s TechNet
International this summer in Washington. 

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.