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Basic Research in Information Science and Technology for Air Force Needs 1 Introduction In October 2004, the National Research Council (NRC) was asked by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) to recommend a basic research program to support Air Force information science and technology (IS&T) goals. The NRC established the Committee on Directions for the AFOSR Mathematics and Space Sciences Directorate Related to Information Science and Technology and charged it to “create a vision and plan for the IS&T-related programs within the AFOSR’s Mathematics and Space Sciences Directorate. The committee was not charged with reviewing the current IS&T program, so nothing in this report should be construed as a criticism of AFOSR or its current program. Rather, this report was designed to be a de novo look at what should be included in the Air Force’s basic IS&T program. Many of the recommended research topics are well known to AFOSR staff, and they clearly overlap the current program. The identification in this report of a basic research need does not imply that the need has been overlooked, only that it should be one of AFOSR’s top IS&T priorities. To accomplish its charge, the committee held three meetings. The first two were intended to inform the committee of the Air Force needs in IS&T, from which the committee would deduce the required basic research portfolio. (Complete agendas of the three meetings are included in Appendix A.) The first meeting was held at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Technology Directorate in Rome, New York. This directorate is a counterpart to AFOSR charged with conducting 6.2 and 6.3 R&D in IS&T; as such, it is both a user of the results of
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Basic Research in Information Science and Technology for Air Force Needs AFOSR-sponsored IS&T and a conduit for transitioning results between the research community and Air Force operating units. At that meeting, the committee also interacted with two members of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, who conveyed results from that board’s 2003 review of Air Force IS&T R&D. The second meeting was held at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, and was hosted by units of the Air Combat Command (ACC). The ACC’s Command, Control, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance center and ACC activities in information operations make it the primary customer among Air Force operational units for AFOSR’s IS&T research. At that site visit, the committee received additional perspectives on the Air Force’s IS&T needs. At its third meeting, in Washington, D.C., the committee held a discussion with Thomas Cruse, chief technologist for the AFRL, to explore AFRL’s directions in IS&T. At all meetings, the committee had ample opportunity for frank discussions with AFOSR personnel who manage IS&T-related research portfolios, and on two occasions it had in-depth discussions with Brendan Godfrey, the director of AFOSR. The committee also sent one member to attend a program review of the Partnership for Research Excellence and Transition (PRET) for advanced concepts in space situational awareness, held in January 2005, and another member for a site visit to the Mesa, Arizona, unit of AFRL’s Human Effectiveness Directorate. The first visit was helpful in bringing out different perspectives about AFOSR funding mechanisms, and both visits covered potential research. As part of its investigation, the committee examined a wide range of past reports—from the Air Force itself, the Defense Science Board, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, and the National Research Council—that bear on Air Force basic research into IS&T. For example, the committee examined Air Force-specific planning documents such as the Air Force Long-Term Challenges, the Air Force Mission and Vision Statement, and the Air Force Flight Plan. From all of these investigations, readings, and discussions, the committee first established a consensus on what IS&T research is needed to support the Air Force’s goal and then filtered those findings based on the committee members’ collective insight about what research is being done, or is likely to be done, in industry, academia, and elsewhere. The study focused on information available from AFOSR, AFRL, and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. As such, this report centers on IS&T research for Air Force operations and does not explore possible IS&T research to improve Air Force processes. The committee also filtered the research needs according to whether or not there were Air Force-specific questions to be addressed: If not, then there is no need for AFOSR to carry out research in that particular area. Based on these inputs and its own expertise, the committee first
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Basic Research in Information Science and Technology for Air Force Needs generated a list of more than a dozen IS&T research areas of importance to the Air Force. Then, echoing what is already understood within the Air Force R&D establishment, the committee identified three building blocks for attaining the desired Air Force capabilities: (1) access to disparate data and information, (2) fusion and appropriate distribution of the data, and (3) conversion of the information into knowledge. These building blocks, like most of the Air Force’s desired capabilities, rely on team-focused, network-enabled systems—that is, interlocking systems made possible by networks that allow teams to work together. The committee concluded that research to develop those building blocks is the most important for the Air Force, and from its initial list of Air Force-relevant IS&T research areas, it identified four that underpin team-focused, network-enabled systems of any kind: research in networks and communications, software, information management, and human-system interactions (HSI). This committee vision for AFOSR’s IS&T program is captured in Figure 1-1; “distributed research and experimentation environments” and “grand challenges” will be explained in Chapters 7 and 9. By building up the knowledge base in these four fundamental areas, AFOSR can help the Air Force move beyond more heuristic approaches for developing disruptive technologies such as network-enabled systems. FIGURE 1-1 A vision for Air Force IS&T research: Team-focused, network-enabled systems are created by the four research areas shown. The concerted efforts in the four areas, which also affect one another, are to be focused by grand challenges identified by the AFOSR and by experiments conducted in distributed research and experimentation environments (see Chapter 9).
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Basic Research in Information Science and Technology for Air Force Needs The committee believes this structure for IS&T research is generic in that it applies to a broad set of information-intensive challenges and embraces all of the high-priority topics for the Air Force. In developing this vision, the committee decided to recommend that AFOSR focus on the IS&T needs of team-focused, network-enabled systems. This choice of research areas is strongly suggested by the documents, briefings, and plans reviewed by the committee. Such a focused research program promises to be much more effective in achieving the goals of a network-enabled Air Force than would a piecemeal attack on disparate IS&T research topics. The committee recognizes that the inputs to network-centric operations and lower-level aspects of networks—for example, sensors, processors, information/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR), and information assurance—also require continued AFOSR-sponsored research, but it believes the greatest research void when looking to the future lies with the system-oriented topics in Figure 1-1. It is at the interface to these systems that information and data emerge and must be dealt with in an effective way to enhance the decision superiority of the Air Force. The basis for all network-enabled operations is a good understanding of networks and the communications that traverse them. As explained in Chapter 3, there are many differences between Air Force networks and commercial networks such as cell phone networks and the Internet. These differences mean that a large number of basic research challenges are Air Force-specific and are not being addressed outside the military. At present, there is no solid foundation of understanding to guide the design and management of these complex networks, and without that understanding building such a network would be akin to designing a new generation of fighter planes by piecing together components from the last. On top of the networks and communications, the Air Force relies on a wide range of complex software. The challenge is to develop a capability to build complex software systems with predictable behavior. This is a long-standing challenge, and Chapter 4 recommends specific aspects that AFOSR should pursue. Information management and interactions between human beings and systems are needed to create military value from the Air Force’s emerging information dominance. For example, much basic research is needed before the Air Force can effectively use and coordinate all of the data currently available from both unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and satellites. There are many unmet challenges in these areas, which are explored in Chapters 5 and 6. Included in the HSI discussion is information operations, which entails not only offensive and defensive cyberwarfare but also the emerging area of influence operations, which aims to effect military goals without necessarily damaging people or infrastructure. There is a great deal of research to be done on that topic.
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Basic Research in Information Science and Technology for Air Force Needs The committee did not conduct a detailed audit of the present AFOSR IS&T programs other than to review the brief summaries that were provided. Such an audit was not within its mandate, and the committee took a blank-slate approach to defining an IS&T vision and a basic research program. By identifying the basic research challenges that underpin team-focused, network-enabled technologies rather than those suggested by specific Air Force or DOD systems and programs, the committee aimed to define an IS&T program that will remain relevant regardless of how particular technology foci might vary over the coming years.
Representative terms from entire chapter: