Grab the Reins
Grab the Reins, Harness the IT Future
Chief Master Sgt. Bruce C. Collett, 48th Communications Squadron
Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England -- (AFPN)
April 16, 2004 -- Imagine the battlefield of
the future. Every missile and bullet in flight and every weapon on the ground
will have a networked Internet address that corresponds to a location on a
computerized 3-D map in the operations center.
On the other side of the globe, commanders will have the ability to instantly
assess battle damage and redirect fire power to any hostile grid coordinate.
Medical personnel will know the exact location of each injured person and be
able to view real-time vital statistics through sensors attached to each
This thumbnail sketch of our future battlefield was described by Maj. Gen. Dale
Meyerrose, director of architectures and integration for U.S. Northern Command,
last fall at the Air Force Information Technology Conference.
As I listened to him describe information technology’s role on the future
battlefield, I couldn’t help but think of the advances we’ve made in IT over a
relatively short period of time, and that the battlefield of the future, which
now seems light-years away, is probably closer then we think.
Remember when IT meant the word “it”? It wasn’t that long ago. Twenty three
years ago when I entered the service, customers prepared messages on an ancient
instrument called a typewriter and delivered them to the base communication
These messages were re-typed by communication specialists on a teletypewriter
that produced a paper-tape. The paper-tape was interpreted by another machine
that transmitted the message through a chain of communications centers connected
by a digital network.
How long did it take for a message to traverse the globe? It wasn’t uncommon for
a “routine” message to take 24 to 48 hours. Keep in mind, this was just to get
it to the receiving communications center. From there, it was printed, reviewed,
routed, distributed -- on and on. Factor in another day for courier runs and
delivery, and you can see how a “routine” correspondence could take a week to
get from writer to reader.
Now, roll the calendar forward to the present day.
Computers on every desk, World Wide Web, on-demand data searches, interactive
Web sites, streaming video, advanced aircraft simulation, advanced guidance
systems, and real-time threat warnings to an aircraft’s cockpit. Even our ID
cards have a computer chip. And, although Airmen today probably take it for
granted, a testament to how engrained IT is in the Air Force is evident in every
enlisted Promotion Fitness Exam study guide that now contains a soft-copy on CD.
With the Air Force keeping, and sometimes exceeding the pace of commercial
industry, we’ve achieved global e-mail address lists and shared network
resources. Thanks to significant investments in network infrastructure, we can
now send and receive Defense Messaging System messages from writer to reader in
seconds instead of days. Amazingly, this transition occurred right before the
eyes of everyone who’s been in the Air Force since 1985.
prime example of the Air Force’s IT compass heading is the Air Force portal.
Although only in its infancy stage, in years to come, it will provide the
necessary link for many of us to perform our jobs, at home or deployed.
By logging in once to the Air Force Portal, members will have instant access to
all Web sites and databases required to do their jobs. No longer will you be
required to log on to one Web site to document maintenance, another Web site to
order parts, and another Web site to monitor fuel. With one logon, you’ll have
everything you need. This is just one example of the many initiatives now being
implemented Air Force wide.
Imagine no longer receiving your sponsor package in the mail. Instead, through
use of interactive media over the internet, you will be able to access a Web
site that has the same look and feel of a video game with an interactive guide
to show you around. Simply drive your virtual car to the gate and receive a tour
derived from actual photography of every place on base.
Imagine a training environment where Self Aid Buddy Care students participate in
an interactive video where they can perform combat medical procedures.
The possibilities are endless. And surprisingly, they may occur sooner then you
To prepare for the IT future, like General Meyerrose, we all need to think of
our future in terms of everything having a networked Internet address. Look
around your work area and imagine every core piece of equipment or tool with a
small chip or sensor and then apply that ability to the Air Force mission.
Your flight suit, your toolbox, your vehicle, all will soon have the ability to
be tracked and monitored on a network. The only limitation to their use will be
defined by our commitment to harness our IT future.