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Every August, when I start to think about what to say for the September issue of COTS Journal, I feel like I’m in preseason, just like Football. September is when every organization goes back to full strength and noses get pressed even harder to the grindstone. What I say here should be inspirational, should take a look at what has happened and provide some vision of where things are headed in the fall.
As summer slips away, the task of orchestrating a communications chain that contains three or more people will no longer take weeks because of time off. Conferences will go into full swing and the number of daily e-mails and phone calls will double. When I’m up to my eyeballs in issues and problems I’m hoping for a break. But I know during the height of the vacation season I’m not at the top of my game. I tend to take longer to do things, because I’m not under as much pressure. That doesn’t mean that I have more time to myself, it just takes me longer to do things. I’m sure I’m not alone with this problem.
In June we had our summer editorial meeting when we look at what we did the first half of this year, making adjustments where needed for the second half of the year. That’s important because we create COTS Journal’s editorial calendar six months prior to the start of the calendar year. By the end of the editorial calendar those initial decisions are 18 months old, a time span that can equal an entire product life cycle in the embedded electronics market. Being nimble and staying on top of our game is critical. We’ve been the leader bringing the latest technology information to the military embedded marketplace for over eight years, and we don’t have any intentions of relinquishing that position.
While contemplating issues to ensure that COTS Journal remains on target, I received an e-mail with an MPEG clip showcasing an electronically fired small arms weapons system. It claimed the ability to fire a quarter of a million rounds a second. It made me think: where would U.S. military capability be today if we had not made the move to utilize commercial technology? Don’t bite my head off if I’m wrong on the details here, but I think in the mid-90s the Mil-Spec 1750A processor was 16-bit technology running at 16 Kbytes/s, while Pentiums and PowerPC processors were 64-bits running at 32 Mbytes/s. Today we have 128-bit multicore processors running at Gbytes per second. If we had continued along the 1750 path, I wonder what the equivalent iteration would be today—32-bits running at 1 Mbyte/s?
The issue that needs resolution now is how do we make the bureaucracy work faster. I see technology running like the Pentium and PowerPC and the bureaucrats “running” like the 1750. We were motivated to change our ways when, in the 90s, we feared our enemies would use COTS technology to develop more sophisticated products than ours if we stuck with Mil-Spec-only products. What’s needed now is motivation to speed up the military and political bureaucracy. There is no doubt that if a technical solution will solve a military problem, we can develop and produce one quickly. There are fast-track procurement programs in place that allow for such development. But the most recent complaints from the bureaucrats are that too many programs are being fast-tracked. My complaint is that not enough are being fast-tracked. Let the bureaucrats figure out how they should work faster and harder to monitor and fund fast-tracked projects. This problem I’m sure is not just restricted to the U.S. defense department.
On the battlefield, we’re now in a situation where our adversaries are nimble and quick to exploit any weaknesses they detect in our capabilities. Technology can only address a minor portion of this problem, and we need those solutions as quickly as possible. Every tactic on the adversary’s part needs to be countered even before it is perceived as a viable and effective measure against us. Aside from the physical damage the enemy may inflict through the continued effective use of any one tactic, there’s the positive propaganda effect prolonging hostilities. The most recent evidence of that was in the conflict in southern Lebanon.
Nimble and quick are characteristics that need to be in everyone’s repertoire. But those attributes alone will not ensure success. Whether on the battlefield, in the embedded design lab or in the publishing business, you also need to have a valid understanding of your environment, your mission and all the tools available to be successful. We at COTS Journal are continuing to employ all these concepts in order to continue providing you, our readers, with the tools necessary for your and the military’s success, thereby ensuring our success.