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Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Future of War

If you see the connections between this story and the Terminator movies, join the club. Here's the main impediment:

The military is filled with "tribal representatives behind tribal workstations interpreting tribal hieroglyphics," in the words of Gen. John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff. "What if the machines talked to each other?" he asked.

That is the vision of the new web: war machines with a common language for all military forces, instantly emitting encyclopedias of lethal information against all enemies.

To realize this vision, the military must solve a persistent problem. It all boils down to bandwidth.

Bandwidth measures how much data can flow between electronic devices. Too little for civilians means a Web page takes forever to load. Too little for soldiers means the war net will not work.

The bandwidth requirements seem bottomless. The military will need 40 or 50 times what it used at the height of the Iraq war last year, a Rand Corporation study estimates - enough to give front-line soldiers bandwidth equal to downloading three feature-length movies a second.

The Congressional Research Service said the Army, despite plans to spend $20 billion on the problem, may wind up with a tenth of the bandwidth it needs. The Army, in its "lessons learned" report from Iraq, published in May, said "there will probably never be enough resources to establish a complete and functioning network of communications, sensors, and systems everywhere in the world."

The bottleneck is already great. In Iraq, front-line commanders and troops fight frequent software freezes. "To make net-centric warfare a reality," said Tony Montemarano, the Defense Information Security Agency's bandwidth expansion chief, "we will have to precipitously enhance bandwidth."

In today's world, bandwidth isn't much of a hurdle, and is easily solved. Skynet, anyone?

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