Pentagon Looks to Civilian IT
Video distribution technology that allows traders on the New York Stock Exchange floor to watch televised news programming was first developed for the U.S. Navy. Now, as the Department of Defense accelerates efforts to improve IT for 21st century warfare, the DOD is looking at ways traders use IT to improve battlefield applications.
The pattern of military-developed technologies evolving into commercial products has come full circle: As the Pentagon hastens to develop tools for battling terrorism and fighting treacherous foes in dangerous environments, it is looking closely at advanced IT products developed for the private sector in the recent high-tech boom.
"There appears to be a trend of picking up technologies in the consumer space and moving them into the military," said Robert Manchise, chief scientist at Anteon Corp., in Fairfax, Va. "The main reason ... is the recent speed of innovation in the private sector."
For private networking, the militarys heightened need to develop advanced IT tools holds the promise for technological advances that could, in turn, migrate back to the commercial sector and improve applications that have not yet gained widespread popularity. Wireless data, videoconferencing and e-commerce all stand to gain from the DODs eagerness to procure the most advanced networking technologies available.
Anteons Pocketmultimedia, being tested by traders at the NYSE, was developed to enable the Navy to transmit highly compressed information aboard vessels.
"Anteon took that technology and built it into commercial products that allow real-time viewing of images across a wireless network," Manchise said. "Now were taking that technology back to the military and saying we can use it to allow people in the field to have videoconferencing or data transmission back and [forth] from the front line to command headquarters."
Anteon is also working with Starbucks Corp. to outfit the companys shops with an infrastructure that allows customers to receive high-quality video and videoconferencing. At the same time, the Pentagon is trying to accelerate wireless video and data transmission for warfare planning and preparationparticularly in hostile terrains.
To improve video communications for warfare, the military is working closely with companies that specialize in visualization techniques. One of them, Silicon Graphics Inc., is taking its visualization technologies used widely in automobile manufacturing and in movie making back to the DOD, for which it originally developed the technology.
"In the last five years, the government has turned this whole paradigm around for use," said John Burwell, senior director of Government Industry at SGI, in Silver Spring, Md.
Battle planning in a hostile environment relies heavily on three- dimensional modeling that allows a view of the battlefield from multiple angles. Products from Lockheed Martin Corp. and Harris Corp. convert satellite images and aerial photographs into databases to produce 3-D fly-throughs or walk-throughs of the terrain, which can be transmitted to the front line or to fighter pilots in real time.
The main objective is to improve information sharing and reduce the time it takes to track and hone in on a target of attack.
In the future, 3-D visualization technologies used for warfare planning could be transferred back to the commercial sector to improve videoconferencing for business, according to Burwell. "Videoconferencing is an area where collaborative visualization developments can really revolutionize the [telecommunications networking] industry because it lets you make eye contact," Burwell said. "Instead of just streaming two-dimensional video, why not project it back into 3-D? You could be at your terminal, and you could rotate the image ... and change the eye point, re-creating the conference remotely."
At NASAs Ames Research Center, in Sunnyvale, Calif., one of the missions is to facilitate technology transfer to and from the government. IT products involving data compression, networking and multimedia are among the technologies being "spun in" most often now to the public sector from private enterprises, said Carolina Blake, chief of the Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization at the center.
"I have moved to embrace the private sector more and more," Blake said. "Traditionally, since World War II, it was the university and federal labs working together. What I see as the answer [to technology questions] in the next 10 to 20 years is a combination of industry, federal labs and university working together."
The military and the private sector face considerable obstacles to wireless data and video networking. Like commercial telecommunications service providers and enterprise network managers, the Pentagon today faces many challenges of bringing data and video to the points where it is needed most.
The last-mile bottleneck in the commercial sector is translated into the "last tactical mile" in the military. More efficient bandwidth allocation techniques on the battlefield could eventually be adopted for more efficient bandwidth allocation in businesses.
Similarly, the commercial sector has not been able to overcome consumer concerns about privacy and security. That may be helped by the militarys eagerness to advance wireless data and video because in warfare, privacy is essential. "What I would think the military would require most for wireless data and wireless video to be transmitted in hostile environments is privacy," Anteons Manchise said. "Once thats done for the military, I would think that the private sector would say they want it, too."