BALTIMORE, Md. -- "This year's theme, the 'Network…Attaining the Value,' speaks volumes about where our nation's military is headed with our new mantra to produce readiness at the least cost," said Maj. Gen. Randolph P. Strong, commander of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, in his welcome speech at the 2011 MILCOM conference at the Baltimore Convention Center held Nov. 7-10.

The event celebrates its 30th anniversary of providing a venue for experts in international military networking and communications solutions to discuss challenges and future needs for military defense. Approximately 300 military and industry exhibitors showcased their capabilities as it relates to the joint network and communications needs in a tactical environment. Strong emphasized the important role the Army's Network will play in battlefield engagements.

"For the Army, our focus isn't on the big five weapons systems of the past […] our focus is the Network," Strong said. "With a networked battlefield, we can achieve a synergy that controls the battlespace, controls the operational tempo, and controls the decision-making environment."

Strong, and other senior military leaders, spent the week presenting and leading panel discussions where industry and government representatives had the opportunity to ask questions about the future communications and networking needs and challenges facing the military.

Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, commander of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, was a keynote speaker Thursday during a luncheon with more than 1,000 industry representatives where she described the challenges AMC will face as it continues the drawdown effort and prepares for an Army of the future. Dunwoody discussed implementing a new strategy for AMC activities by changing the way the command does business so that its processes are more transparent. She said building relationships with industry will allow optimization of capabilities and create efficiencies that should enable a better value for services as the Army moves toward the affording the Army of the future in a time of guarded resources.

Lt. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence, U.S. Army chief information officer/G6, echoed that message during her MILCOM address. After 10 years of war, the military is faced with an environment of different networks, she said.

"Now, we need to get to an enterprise environment," said Lawrence as she explained the need and potential of one shared network. She urged military and industry leaders to collaborate to address technological gaps of what's available in the industry arena, compared to military technology procurements today.

Lawrence aims to achieve a two-year capability set and be more closely aligned to industry's technology spin-out updates, at the best cost. With more innovative technology capabilities, the Army is looking at ways to adjust its procurement strategies to buy just enough for mobilized units, thus enabling the Army to cost-effectively acquire newer capabilities faster, she explained.

"We must have an affordable modernization strategy that is integrated and synchronized," said Lawrence to an audience of technology industry representatives. Lawrence also encouraged small businesses to continue leverage networking opportunities and collaborations as they work to contribute to the defense network integration efforts.

"We can't lose what small companies bring in terms of innovation," she said. CECOM's Office of Small Business Programs held small business workshops at the conference in an effort to educate and advise small companies interested in doing business with CECOM, and the military, during the four-day event.

Strong mirrored this message in his panel discussion as he explained the benefits of collapsing the traditional acquisition processes to bring innovative and flexible solutions to the warfighter more rapidly.

"The approach is about the 'command-centric' delivery that is network-enables, not network-centric," Strong said.

He hosted a panel discussion entitled "Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multi-national Tactical Networking for the Future" where joint military leaders discussed cost-effective networking strategies for use in the tactical environment. In addition to Strong, panelists included: Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, commander of the Electronics Systems Center; Rear Adm. David Simpson, vice-director of the Defense Information Systems Agency; Gary Blohm, director for Army Architecture Integration Center/CIO G6; and Brigadier Andy Bristow, chief of staff, United Kingdom National Contingent, Afghanistan.

Strong discussed the operational issues the Army faced in the inability to communicate effectively and share operational Commander's guidance, information and intelligence on the battlefield. Due to a variety of networks with inadequate cross-domain solutions, the U.S. military forces faced communications challenges between the U.S. and NATO forces, said Strong.

"That's what the Afghan Mission Network was all about, to improve communications capability for operational planning and exchanging intelligence information in a secure and accessible environment for U.S. and NATO forces in the International Security Assistance Force," explained Strong. The Central Technical Support Facility plays an integral role in supporting the Army's effort toward mission-based Coalition interoperability assurance, and integration for the Afghanistan Mission Network.

"Ultimately, this networking of information saves lives," said Strong. "[…] when I talk to warfighters in the theater of operations, they tell me that it is the C4ISR systems that give them their combat edge, and saves lives on the battlefield."