3D printer Army

Emerging technologies

3 IT keys to the future for Navy, military

The future use of IT in the military services could be driven ever tightening budgets, and Department of the Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen says that three technology areas will be “game changers” as the Navy looks to save money while accomplishing its mission.

“Future resources may continue to dwindle, but mission requirements will not,” Halvorsen writes on the DON CIO blog, under the title, “What's Next in IT - And How Do We Get There?” He singles out three technology areas “that revolutionize the way we do business” and will have a big impact going forward — 3D printing, mobile and cloud computing, and application programming interfaces.

Those technologies already are making a difference, along with others such as drones, nanotechnology and software-based infrastructure, but are likely to become an even bigger part of the military’s future, he writes.

3D printing

More accurately called "additive manufacturing," as Halvorsen points out, 3D printing has come a long way in just the past few years. It’s already been used in mobile laboratories in Afghanistan and for repairing vehicles in the field.

And the technology’s benefits extend beyond just convenience. Halvorsen points out that additive manufacturing’s approach — “printing” an object in layers rather cutting and drilling — creates less waste, is portable and could substantially reduce manufacturing costs. Ships at sea, for example, could be able to print their own replacement parts, servers and data centers, or even weapons as needed.

In fact, two Navy officers, writing last year in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, proposed the concept of a fleet that could practically run on 3D printing, with ships producing everything from food to repair parts and robots on-board, and getting fresh supplies from “biomining” vessels that drawn the raw material for 3D printing from the sea. Shipyards also would use 3D printing extensively, even to build ships and aircraft, according to their theoretical concept.

Mobile, the cloud and the mobile cloud

Mobile communications and the cloud are increasingly important elements in military operations, as the services look to extend delivery of tactical information to the individual level and create a cloud-based Joint Information Environment. “[T]he intersection of these two presents challenges and opportunities for the DON,” Halvorsen writes. The challenges involve ensuring security across smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, as well as across private, hybrid and commercial clouds. But the opportunities, including access to any authorized information from any device and at any time via the cloud — while saving money on physical infrastructure — can’t be ignored.

APIs

Application programming interfaces, which define how software programs interact with each other, is another potential game-changer, Halvorsen writes. He notes how ESPN collects statistics and other data from disparate sources and incorporates them into analyses and predictions. He projects a similar approach for the Navy.

Allowing the interaction of data drawn from multiple sources in multiples formats, could enable the types of big data analysis that military organizations expect rely on. The Navy and Army are using big data techniques to produce energy savings, and large-scale data collection and analysis will be a key function of the JIE.

Those three technologies area reflect the mobile, cloud-based, data-driven direction the Navy and the military overall is moving. But the key to making them work isn’t the technologies themselves, but having an educated, well-trained workforce, Halvorsen writes. “One of our biggest challenges in the years ahead is developing a way to train, educate, and, yes, retain, our cyberspace/IT workforce, including civilians,” he said.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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