September 11, 2004
The U.S. Army is having a hard time finding the money, and equipment, needed to get the troops connected electronically, which is considered essential for the battlefield of the future. The army is eager to implement a battlefield Internet, and is slowly making more and more information available to troops in the field. This is being called Horizontal Fusion, and the goal is a system where the maximum number of troops can quickly pass needed data to each other. Thus the widespread use of the more common, and comprehensible term, battlefield Internet. The troops want this sort of thing. Raised on the Internet, and getting a taste of the possibilities with things like BFT (Blue Force Tracker), everyone knows it can be done. Everyone knows that stuff saves lives and wins battles. And theres a war going on. So why isnt the battlefield Internet here already?
There three main reasons for the delay; money, systems already in use and software that works. The Department of Defense already has new radios in the works, which use digital technology (making it easier to use web type material). But these radios are still several years away from wide use. Even when the new radios arrive, they will not use satellite communications, like BFT did. What made Blue Force Tracker so handy was the satellite link. Regular radios, usually FM (which have problems with obstacles like mountains or a lot of buildings), are not as reliable as the satellite links, but are a lot cheaper. Which brings us to the second problem; money. Satellite connections get charged by the minute. Even at the cheap, bulk rates, that the Pentagon gets, its expensive. Too expensive versus military radios, which have no per-minute charges. But for key users (like commanders of combat units), you might be able to scrounge up the bucks. However, theres no money to replace all the traditional radios with satellite based equipment. Maybe in the future, but not in the next decade.
The third reason is pretty basic; software to make it all work. Troops on the battlefield wont be using the same Internet software the rest of us use. This has been suggested, and it may end up that way as military data is adapted for battlefield Internet use. But at the moment, the information the troops need (fire control, supply, navigation), is stored in many different formats in many different systems. Theres a translation problem that wont be resolved quickly or cheaply. That is well known because the process has been underway for a while. It hasnt been easy, or cheap.
So Horizontal Fusion is on the way, slowly. Its unlikely that even large quantities of money thrown at the problem will make things move a lot faster. Theres just too much change, and too much new stuff needed, for that to happen.