undergraduate computer science courses and so are available in many parts of the world. This implies that opposing forces could readily encrypt their own transmissions if they chose to do so. Such encryption can also be expected to be very strong, and difficult or impossible to break using known methods. Programs such as Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and Gnu Privacy Guard (GnuPG), which can be obtained over the Internet by anyone, provide essentially unbreakable security if used properly.
Computational systems are used to process the data gathered by sensor systems and human agents and to produce information that can be used by decision makers in command centers and on the field. As the armed forces become increasingly networked and more data become available online, BLUE forces will rely increasingly on computational systems to sift through the available information to provide situational awareness and to identify patterns. Computational systems are also used to automate difficult or tedious decision processes. Logistic operations, for example, can be optimized through the use of automated planning and scheduling systems.
The economies of scale and competitive pressures in the commercial computer sector have produced a situation where processing power has become a commodity. Powerful 32- and 64-bit microprocessors are produced at low cost both domestically and internationally. One result of this trend is that it has become much simpler for other nations to acquire state-of-the-art computational capabilities. Consider the fact that the majority of the supercomputers in the Top 500 listing are composed of collections of standard microprocessors lashed together with high-performance networks.
It will always be the case that the most demanding computational applications such as image interpretation, automated language translation, data mining, and so on will fuel the drive for ever increasing processing power. However, the skills and components required to construct powerful computational clusters are now widely available internationally.
It is not only access to high-performance computing that is a concern. Increasingly, low-power electronics is an area of active research and development that will be especially important in the area of sensor networks. To provide increased intelligence at the sensor and to reduce the demands on the network, a significant amount of processing will have to occur at the sensor; such processing power is enabled by low-power electronics.
As the price of computing hardware has dropped, the relative importance of software has increased. At this point, some of the most significant technical challenges in implementing the vision of the Future Combat Systems program center on the issue of developing reliable software systems that can coordinate distributed networks of sensors, actuators, and computers into a seamless whole. This task is complicated by the fact that the systems are expected to work in a dynamic environment in which elements may be added or removed unexpectedly and communications are not assured. In this regard, research and development being carried out in distributed systems, grid computing, and sensor networks should be viewed as germane to the military context.
The ability to produce and maintain sophisticated software systems relies on the availability of skilled personnel, programmers, analysts, testers, and others. Here again, it is the case that human resources are available internationally. China, for example, currently graduates five times more engineers than does the United States. The Indian city of Bangalore now has more technology jobs than Silicon Valley. In the face of current worldwide trends, it is unlikely that BLUE forces will have a significant advantage in terms of their ability to design, deploy, and operate the computational infrastructure required to support information collection and exploitation. The number of trained software engineers is declining in the United States but is increasing rapidly in countries in Asia.