Information Warfare: April 2, 2005

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The U.S. Army has over a hundred different communications systems, which enable the troops to talk to each other, and various weapons and bits of equipment as well. These systems operate on eleven different networks. There are similar problems for civilians, where you can have a cell phone, an email account, a beeper, intercom at home, a garage door opener, keyless car entry control, a GPS and various remote controls for gadgets and appliances. It adds up doesnt it? Gets confusing at times? The army problem is worse because the troops are moving around a lot more, and their lives often depend on all of these communication links working every time. 

Civilian manufacturers are always trying to develop communications gadgets that handle more tasks. Theres a market for that sort of thing. Say, a cell phone that handles email, opens the garage door, acts as a remote for the TV and other devices and, well, you get the idea. This is the direction the cell phone is headed, and the army is trying to do the same thing. Its a tricky job, since you have a moving target to work with. Commo gear is constantly being dropped as obsolete, and replaced by new stuff. A lot of the new gear is not replacing anything. Take, for example, UAVs, and the wireless control systems that allow troops to fly them from the ground. 

The army is trying to create specifications for new equipment that will make it easier for this, yet unseen (and undersigned), gear to work with many other army commo devices. There is already a new generation of radios in the works, that are reprogrammable (via their software) to talk to many different devices. This is the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) a $5 billion program that would eventually replace 750,000 radios currently in use. But JTRS has run into lots of technical problems, and is behind schedule, over budget and under review. The biggest problem is with security, namely encryption. Preventing potential enemies from listening in has proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Because JTRS encryption is software based, and not in hardware, it is more vulnerable to hacking.

But there are already combat PDAs being tested, in Iraq, that include satellite radio capability. So, maybe ten years down the road, each soldier will be issued a Universal Communicator that will talk to everything. Thats more a dream than a likelihood, but the direction is clear. There will be fewer commo devices, doing more. Getting there will be one of those major peacetime "battles" you don't hear much about.

 


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