Fixing the network: research chief takes steps to link incompatible weapons.

Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
 
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The Pentagon has lots of weapons systems that should be able to "talk" to each other but can't. Despite years and billions of dollars spent to develop networking technologies, some major weapon systems today still lack basic connectivity to exchange information with other systems. And many of the communications, command-and-control networks employed by the military services are incompatible with other systems.

Nearly a decade ago, the Defense Department began a multibillion-dollar effort to bring about a new generation of networking technology that would render all the existing systems obsolete. But the next generation has been slow to arrive--because of a combination of technology setbacks, management problems and budget cuts.

The cornerstone programs that were to deliver unprecedented connectivity to military forces anywhere in the world include the joint tactical radio system, or JTRS; the transformational satellite constellation, or TSAT; and the global information grid, or GIG.

But heightened uncertainty about the future of these programs prompted Defense Department senior leaders to assemble a group of technologists and direct them to find ways to improve existing "legacy" networks.

A case in point is the Air Force F-22 fighter jet. The aircraft, which by all measures is the service's showpiece for dominance of the skies, has no capability to transmit data to other aircraft via the military's widely used Link 16 command-and-control network. "The F-22 is a major data collector but has no Link 16 transmit capability," said John Young, director of defense research and engineering. "We need everyone to contribute to the common picture."

In an attempt to fix network shortfalls that are found throughout the services, Young is sponsoring two initiatives. One is a $40 million program called "airborne network gateways." The gateways are networking hubs to integrate various systems in a combat zone. Another effort--estimated to cost $190 million during the next five years--is to analyze, model, and develop protocols and technologies to allow military forces to communicate while on the move--without a transmission tower, as is commonly used for cell technology. Under this project, the Defense Department also will seek to improve the use of the available frequencies, known as spectrum management.

A team of analysts under Young's watch has been studying these issues for months, he said in an interview. The overwhelming consensus among

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