Battle-Testing Tech

For 11 days in June, the U.S. military will test cutting-edge technology that could be used on the battlefield--and perhaps in business.



Over the next two weeks, members of the U.S. military, select foreign armies, and domestic law-enforcement and emergency-response agencies will test cutting-edge technologies with the potential to serve on the front lines of the war against terrorism. And unlike many defense tech initiatives, this isn't about far-out ideas. The best stuff could be in the field in a matter of months.

Among the more than 100 technologies to be tested are a "masking shunt" that makes firewalls invisible to hackers. There's a system that uses everyday Web-services standards to link the U.S. and U.K. air forces. And there's a radio-frequency identification tagging system to send real-time casualty reports from battlefield to headquarters.

Called the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, or CWID, it's a decade-old annual event that has a new urgency and a changing roster of participants, given the troops in combat abroad and the shifting terrorist threats at home. While the technology is aimed at war and homeland security, the very nature of CWID means it also offers a glimpse into technologies destined to influence the business world, particularly where the concern is providing secure communications among disparate groups.

"Messaging and information sharing are the key technologies for this year," says Col. Michael Lebiedz, a member of the U.S. Joint Forces Command and program director for CWID, which runs from June 13 to June 23.

Though the event began in 1994, this is just the second year the Coast Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are attending. Several NATO members, including Austria, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania, will observe from a site in Norway. NATO member Portugal will observe for the first time, as will Russia. "There's virtually no chance of us doing operations in this world unilaterally anymore," Lebiedz says. "We need to be able to interoperate with our coalition partners as seamlessly as possible."

Fifty of the demos will happen at U.S. military sites and 60 more at international sites.

To get in front of such a coveted audience, each technology project needs a government agency willing to sponsor it, though the vendor pays the demo expense. Participants include Boeing, IBM, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and XM Satellite Radio.

The technology must be deployable within six to 12 months. Some technology demonstrated at last year's June event was in use by July. The U.S. Northern Command, which specializes in homeland defense and hosts this year's event, used planning and decision-support software from Booz Allen Hamilton for security efforts at the Democratic National Convention in July and again in September for the Republican convention.

Messaging and information sharing are key, Lebiedz says. -- Photo by Ron deVries/Getty Images

Messaging and information sharing are key, Lebiedz says.

Photo by Ron deVries/Getty Images
For a smaller vendor, the venue can mean one very high-pressure day. ScenPro Inc. is counting on CWID to expose its satellite and RFID medical-monitoring system to international military operations and, ultimately, to private-sector medical facilities. The company's Tactical Medical Coordinating System, sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps, is designed to capture and display near-real-time casualty data transmitted from the field. It uses RFID technology and a satellite communication system to get data to a central database, where commanders and medical personnel using a Web browser can access it. "A casualty has a tag that's readable wherever they go to make sure they get the appropriate care," Lebiedz says. "This is useful, particularly if that person requires more-sophisticated care than is available in the field."

ScenPro has worked with the Navy and Marine Corps over the past few years to develop RFID bracelets for tracking patients inside a hospital. TacMedCS uses satellite communications to extend the use of this technology across multiple medical facilities and ultimately onto the battlefield. "The Marines wanted to take it a step forward and introduce satellite technology so they could bring it into the field," ScenPro VP Brian Jones says.

Information security is key to many technologies being tested, including the masking shunt that the New Zealand military developed. The device is designed to render firewalls and security appliances invisible to intruders by scrambling the source media-access control address for each defensive device on a network and randomly replacing it with addresses of other devices. "If a device is not able to be detected," Lebiedz says, "it's not open to hacking."

Compatibility is another focus. Fujitsu UK, Mitre, and QinetiQ have developed a project with the British and U.S. air forces that uses commercially available Web-services protocols such as XML and the Simple Object Access Protocol to share information among coalition partners. It could let them work together in new ways, such as sharing the same air-traffic-control system.

Also in the spirit of interoperability, Prosodie Interactive Inc. will demonstrate its U.S. Coast Guard-sponsored system as a way for military commands and civilian first responders to create an emergency alert and communication network. The system ties a variety of communications devices--desk, cell, and home phones, pagers, BlackBerrys, faxes, and PCs--so calling a key official at one emergency number will try all those devices. "We take all of your infrastructure and unite it," says Prosodie VP Keith Jentoft. "If one channel is blocked to you, it will find another."

Prosodie sold similar technology to the Louisiana State Police. CWID marks the company's first test in connecting international users. "We're linking a lot of disparate commands that don't typically communicate with each other," Jentoft says. The system is probably "overkill" for most companies, he says. Still, its alerting capabilities might suit some businesses such as an airline that must pull together a core team for accident investigations.

Microsoft's lone entry at CWID is designed to establish secure information transfer among coalition partners. The system uses Active Directory Federation Services--which will be available later this year in Windows 2003 Server Release 2--along with Live Communications Server, a modified version of Address Book, and Rights Management Services. Sponsored by the Australian government, the system is meant to accelerate a mission commander's ability to receive and act on intelligence by securely disseminating it to commanders and fighters with appropriate security clearances. Most of the technologies are already available, but it's how they're being used that will interest coalition partners and, likely, the private sector. "Any business that has a requirement for mission-critical environments or the interoperability of applications or communications would be interested" in the trial, says John Hewie, principal technology specialist with Microsoft Canada and Microsoft's global lead for CWID.

For businesses, the event is most useful if they're willing to apply a bit of imagination to what's presented. "It's a question of identifying crossover technologies," says Herbert Strauss, a Gartner VP and principal national security analyst.

CWID's 11 days of technology evaluations are sure to accelerate technologies bound for the front lines. "Some technologies may emerge as superstars, and if we can find a way to field them, we will," Lebiedz says. And don't be surprised if some of what works makes its way to the business market, too.

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