Casualties are an inevitable part of any military conflict, as Americans have constantly been reminded by this country's involvement in Iraq. Effective military electronic systems can help to minimize those casualties, however, by providing what at times may be just a split-second edge, but enough of an advantage to save a life.

Military electronics is, of course, a comprehensive "umbrella" term that covers a wide range of systems, from the traditional ground-based, airborne, and shipboard radar systems that are the roots of this industry to advanced communications and surveillance equipment and electronic-countermeasures (ECM) systems that provide early detection and response mechanisms to an enemy's presence. The armed forces have long supported the development of such systems as separate entities creating, for example, communications systems that would not always network effectively between branches of the military. More recently, however, the different services have recognized the need for teamwork in the form of joint development programs.

One of the more ambitious of these joint development programs is the joint US Army/DARPA program known as Future Combat Systems (FCS) that would be networked across all military services. The basic concept of the FCS is to provide a soldier with access to a total of 18 different systems, including advanced manned vehicles and unmanned robotic reconnaissance vehicles/sensors, so that the soldier's own senses are effective extended into hostile regions without putting that soldier into harm's way. Simply put, the program intends to wage future battles with robots rather than humans. Obviously, the program's advanced systems will heavily leverage proven RF/microwave technologies for remote control and communications within the network.

DARPA is current managing the FCS Concept and Technology Development phase of the program. Once the program enters into the System Development and Demonstration phase, the US Army Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems will take responsibility for systems integration, production, fielding, and sustaining the systems.

The program represents a true practical application of electronics technology to the military in that it should increase the mobility and tactical capability of the individual soldier while fulfilling the "prime objection" of keeping casualties to a minimum. Although the cost of the project was originally estimated at about $92 billion, a reassessment of system needs has added about 25 percent more to this total. Still, the loss of a robot or unmanned vehicle will always be insignificant compared to the loss of a single human life.