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Grab the Reins

Grab the Reins, Harness the IT Future

By 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 soldier’s body.

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 center.

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.

  • So, what are we doing to harness the future?

A 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 think.

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.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).