AFCEA WEST 2022, the premier Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard conference focused on operations in the Asia-Pacific region, welcomed about 7,000 registered attendees at this year’s in-person event Feb. 16-18 in San Diego. The 32nd annual conference and exhibition, cosponsored by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute, is the only one where platform makers and tech designers can network and demonstrate their solutions in one place. This year’s conference theme asked, “Are We Committing to New Capabilities Rapidly Enough to Meet Future Challenges?”
To tackle that topic, WEST planners stacked the agenda with senior military, government and Defense Department officials to discuss the challenges they face and how industry can help them. Attendees also got to see some of the solutions in action and although they included things such as plans for the first aircraft carrier built completely with digital modeling and unmanned aeronautical vehicles, one guy really stole the show: AT&T’s robotic dog named Fido-G, designed to carry equipment such as cameras, LiDAR and small arms.
Minding the (Skills, Technology) Gaps
“I don’t think we’re where we want to be when we talk about readiness,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday spotlighted the Navy’s need for more than 500 ships to meet commitments outlaid in the upcoming 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS), for example. NDS “provides a clear road map for the Department of Defense to meet the challenges posed by a re-emergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia,” according to DOD.
Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said the service is looking for proven technologies from industry and urged companies to “keep the lines of dialogue open.”
In addition to modern technologies, the services need tech-savvy service members, which is why Berger said he sees the Great Resignation that has emerged as Americans quit jobs at record speeds in the past year as an opportunity for the Marine Corps.
He said recruiters are ready to step in as people step down from their private-sector positions, especially in key areas like cybersecurity. Although the military has traditionally had a young force, there’s no reason not to recruit people of all ages. “We’re not giving up on the high school graduate, but we have to reach a better balance in our force,” Berger said.
Other officials focused on the need to train current and incoming service members. For instance, Rear Adm. Michael Vernazza, commander of the Naval Information Warfighting Development Center, said that it plans to enhance lethality through a warfare tactics instructor program and drive information warfare through virtual training. “NIWDC is moving out with drive, tenacity and initiative to deliver the decision advantage to our Navy,” Vernazza said.
That need to improve information warfare was also a common refrain. Vice Adm. Kelly Aeschbach, commander of Naval Information Forces, said demand for it is at an all-time high, but her main concern is keeping pace with changes, including training personnel – sometimes in real time and in real environments – and delivering the best technology to the force. She’s got her eye on advanced counter command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and targeting capabilities in particular.
Within 140,000 square feet of space, more than 480 showcased their latest air, space and cyber capabilities. If an exhibitor had a product that flies, orbits, hovers or launches, it was represented. In addition, the exhibit hall provided key opportunities for the audience to interact face-to-face with the water-centric services, innovative and agile small businesses and industry giants.
“[WEST 2022] is an opportunity to spend time with our various partners and stakeholders,” said Sumner Lee, CEO of Fuse Integration. “It is a chance to share stories of what we are accomplishing with Fuse products and programs, as well as learn from both customers and users.”
Mark your calendar to set sail for AFCEA WEST 2023, which will be held Feb. 14-16 at the San Diego Convention Center.