during the Gulf War, when voice and data systems failed to keep up with rapidly moving front-line troops. Only 10 percent of soldiers currently have voice communications capabilities, and only satellites, certain aircraft, and "smart" missiles carry sensors for still imagery or video.
Changes in military operations are stimulating DOD interest in untethered systems. U.S. military personnel now need to be prepared to move quickly throughout the world to respond to rapidly evolving regional conflicts and carry out a variety of noncombat roles, such as peacekeeping and humanitarian response. Just as past hardware advances (e.g., aircraft carriers, long-range jet aircraft) shaped the military conflicts of yesteryear, information technology is now shaping plans for the nation's future defense. Plans are being made for a digitized battlefield in which sensors are widely distributed, and rapidly deployable, multimedia wireless systems extend from front-line soldiers all the way to the Pentagon and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Advanced command, control, communications, computing, and intelligence (C4I) systems will make it possible to monitor an adversary on a computer screen, target specific threats, and neutralize them with the press of a button.
The DOD is taking a dual approach to meeting its future communications needs by funding selected R&D and demonstration projects, focusing primarily on components, while also relying increasingly on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies. In the Gulf War, for example, the military obtained satellite-transmitted positioning data using commercial receivers, which were rapidly fielded to meet an urgent military need. On the other hand, for some military applications, commercial products do not meet stringent requirements for security, interoperability, and other capabilities. And yet, with defense budgets flat or declining, the DOD can no longer rely solely on military suppliers to provide defense-unique solutions. The military needs to find a way to ride the wave of commercial technology advances while maintaining technical capabilities that exceed those of any potential adversary.
This report, the result of a one-year study by the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Research Council, recommends strategies and R&D to help the DOD field state-of-the-art, cost-effective untethered communications systems that meet military needs. The report concentrates on wireless technologies that use the radio frequency (RF) part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The study was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to address the following questions: