Civilian sector eyes digital developments

Cars have the flash factor. But military-tech trickledown isn't only about automotive advances.

Spam, dehydrated milk, and "survival bars" are among dozens of products with military pedigrees, according to the Department of Defense's Combat Feeding Program.

"About 30 percent of the items in your local grocery store came about from Army research," points out Jerry Whitaker, chief of public affairs for the US Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. His organization falls under the command of the Army Materiel Command (AMC), headquartered in Alexandria, Va.

Another big gainer: the communications world.

In the 1940s and '50s, the US government and the military created a networked system of computers - the Advanced Research Projects Agency Net (ARPANet) - that was the forerunner of the Internet. More recently, the use of satellites to help pinpoint positions on the ground - global positioning systems - has led to hand-held units that can be bought for less than $200 and carried by backpackers.

GPS technology - cheap

"Research and development of GPS technologies, like numerous other technologies, find their roots in the military application of GPS systems," says Lou Jakub, chief of the Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) Research Development and Engineering Center's Technology Transfer Office in Fort Monmouth, N.J.

"There are many exciting developments in the pipeline," says Mr. Jakub, pointing to the change from analog- to digital-based systems - and the resulting explosion in information technologies. "This has ... allowed sharing of information among a number of platforms in a networked environment."

TV news trucks

Consider also the television news trucks always racing to the scene of breaking stories.

"The military sometimes has a need to rapidly deploy forces, and move large amounts of information back and forth quickly," says Robert Dutton, vice president and general manager for Trusted Network Solutions at General Dynamics Communication Systems, which works closely with the Army.

"We were involved in the development of some early mobile satellite terminals for this purpose," says Mr. Dutton, whose company also developed the mobile-subscriber equipment (MSE) system - a precursor to cellphone technology - for the US Army. Dutton's job is to create systems, products, and projects to make communications systems and networks more secure, principally for the US and some foreign governments.

"We do a lot of work with the National Security Agency on ways to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive government information through encryption [the scrambling of information during electronic transmission] and other techniques," he says.

Expect to hear more soon about "public-key infrastructure, the next step in protecting sensitive information, whether for personal, commercial, or government purposes," Dutton says. PKI requires authentication at "the other end" of a transmission as well as proof of delivery.

Where does that pay off? In a world of online transactions, including ones as basic as using an ATM, consumers like to think that nobody's picking up their data.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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