We are still at the early stages of the IT revolution. The performance of sensors and computers continues to improve even as they shrink in size and morph into different shapes. Cars, household appliances, industrial machinery, farm equipment, roads and bridges are now run or monitored by computers and are connected to the global grid. There are so many devices in operation in our homes that families are experiencing a noticeable slowdown in transmission speeds. As a consequence, internet service providers are now offering optional improved speed and bandwidth.
This explosion in IT is a result, in part, of improvements in the performance of sensors and computers. But it is a function also of the value that individuals, households, businesses, organizations, political parties and governments find in being connected. We are living in a world that reflects the validity of Metcalfe’s Law which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. The more nodes there are on the network, the more power it has and the greater the value it generates. We have seen this in the ways that the IT revolution is not only leading to the invention of new modes of communications, it is giving birth to novel social customs and even languages. In turn, these changes lead to even greater demands for connectivity and bandwidth.
It should come as no surprise that the revolution we are experiencing at home and in the workplace is also having a profound impact on the U.S. military. The IT revolution has led to an equally profound one in military operations. Precise position location has transformed navigation and target location. Where once it took hundreds of aircraft and thousands of bombs to score even a small number of hits on a target, now it is one weapon per aimpoint. Military logistics is undergoing a similar transformation as supplies can be tracked from factory to foxhole. Sensors and computers are proliferating on every type of platform not only to support combat operations but for such purposes as predictive maintenance and automated operation of routine functions.
The deployment of thousands of sensors on unmanned aerial systems, fixed platforms, ground robots, manned vehicles and even individual soldiers has led to the daily production of literally terabytes of data. These nodes are also part of the network, sending and receiving information based on their function and needs. Each service is pursuing very sophisticated plans and programs to exploit the growing ability to collect, move, analyze and exploit information. The Army is pursuing a network design that will provide continuous connectivity for units and even individuals. The centerpiece of this effort is the capability to conduct “mission-command on the move.” The Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air will network together the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the Aegis air and missile defense system, other Navy manned and unmanned aerial platforms and even Army and Air Force systems such as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Network Sensor System, Patriot and E-3 AWACS.
Just as the computer-savvy family is experiencing bandwidth problems, so too is the U.S. military. Simply put, demand is exceeding supply. One long-time observer of the struggle to deliver IT services to the warfighter formulated a military corollary to Metcalfe’s Law. This Iron Law of Bandwidth Usage states that “for military formations, using bandwidth expands to consume whatever amount of bandwidth is provided.” Unlike domestic consumers of bandwidth, the military cannot just go to its internet provider and pay a little extra for a faster connection. The new IT challenge for the U.S. military is to manage the insatiable demand for bandwidth even as the proliferation of sensors, computers and devices continues.
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