"Defense Technology and the Future"
International Technology Summit
Casa d'Monico, Madrid
January 30, 2002
Thank you very much.
My topic - the impact of technology on future defense capabilities -- has long been a focus of my work:
- first as a combat pilot, then as a test pilot,
- later as the U.S. Air Force military acquisition chief,
- and now in the research and development business at Boeing.
The video we've just seen introduces a number of areas influencing the defense industry today. I might also add that they are influencing military operations in Afghanistan - with great effect.
In the next few minutes, I would like to touch on three of these areas:
- First, the increasing importance of information technology and connectivity.
- Second, network-centric operations - a new approach to warfighting
- And third, the technological implications of a growing intolerance of warfare casualties and collateral damage on the battlefield.
From my vantage point, there is no area of defense technology where the pace and breadth of change is as great as it is in information and communications technology:
From information gathering platforms and sensors on or near the battlefield to space-based systems far overhead, the volume of potentially useful combat information is growing at a remarkable pace.
The result is an ability to gain information superiority on the battlefield - a potentially important advantage for our forces. But the word "potentially" is an important qualifier for our efforts are hindered by fears of information overload and non-interoperable communications systems.
The increase in military and commercial earth surveillance sensing and other information sources is leading to what is called global transparency - a condition where everybody knows just about everything. In this situation the winner on the battlefield will be the one who takes information superiority and turns it into decision superiority.
To gain decision superiority, information has to be compressed so that it can be disseminated accurately and quickly, filtered so the right people get only what they need, and disseminated fast enough to make a difference on the battlefield.
Collection, compression, filtering, and dissemination - these are the core elements of what it takes to achieve decision superiority, and to win.
The challenge in achieving decision superiority is that our military forces employ a mix of new and legacy hardware. More often than not, these systems were designed and built to work as self-contained, stand-alone capabilities. Achieving interoperability of these systems was technically challenging and very expensive.
That's the bad news!
The good news is that information and communications technologies are now available to do something about it by exploiting open systems information architectures and information-wrapping technologies.
These technologies allow system upgrades to be more affordable and enable interoperability at the machine level. It makes it possible for digital data to be shared, in real time, regardless of the source or the recipient.
The result can be that a new way of warfighting called network-centric warfighting is enabled. This is a rather new term, but an important one. What it really means is that by incorporating modern information and communications technologies, every military platform within a force can become just about as capable as the most capable element in the overall force. The network becomes a powerful force multiplier.
In the past, we used to say that a military force was not much better than its weakest link. Today, the opposite can be true: In a network-centric operation, the information and intelligence gathering capability of the most sophisticated platforms can be shared in real-time with other, less capable war fighting elements of the force.
The strongest link dictates, and a coalition force gains a powerful and often decisive advantage.
It all depends on interoperability - the ability to build and sustain a network.
From an industry and defense procurement standpoint, I would suggest that it would serve us well to approach interoperability as absolutely mandatory rather then a desired capability.
To put just a bit more emphasis on this latter point, just several weeks ago, the U.S. Navy's top requirements official, Admiral Denny McGinn, in commenting on air and ground combat operations in Afghanistan had this to say - and I quote - "If we did a better job of networking the joint force we have out there already, we'd have a significant increase in combat capability." A clear recognition of the leverage gained through this high degree of interoperability.
Now, let me close with a few words about the technological implications of a growing intolerance of warfare casualties and collateral damage. Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo and now Afghanistan are demonstrating that our citizens and governments are becoming less and less tolerant of combat losses and non-combatant and friendly casualties on the battlefield. Collateral damage to non-military targets is also becoming unacceptable.
The consequences are rather obvious for future military force structure.
- More uninhabited air vehicles.
- Increased emphasis on standoff weapons.
- Greater precision in all of our weapons systems.
We're seeing significant increases in R&D in all three areas; and I believe those increases will accelerate.
Let me make particular mention of uninhabited combat air vehicles, or as they are known by their acronym - UCAVs. UCAVs will become more and more significant - in not only a surveillance role; but also in both defense suppression and strike roles.
The advantage of these UCAVs is of course, that humans are kept in the loop in two key decision-making areas - selecting targets and deciding whether or not to attack - without being put at risk.
From my vantage point, I believe we are going to see UCAVs continue to grow in importance and take on additional roles in the years ahead.
In all of this - from UCAVs to decision superiority, and from open system architectures to a network-centric force structure, there are many unanswered questions and issues before industry and the customers we serve. There is much work to be done.
Lots of things can get in the way, and I suspect many will - from technical and fiscal issues to operational and political ones.
But when I look back at what we've already achieved, think about the capabilities of our industrial base, and the kind of results we're achieving on the battlefield right now, I remain confident that we can and will find the way to use defense technology to continue to strengthen our common goals of security and peace.
Thank you very much for your attention.