The Sea-Air-Space Exposition opened in Maryland yesterday. It is one of the U.S. defense industry's largest trade shows--a place where government agencies and private-sector companies gather to peruse the shiniest and most fearsome new military equipment. It is also a good barometer of where the industry is headed. Here are the four most important trends I spotted:
The sheer number of cameras, sensors, sonar systems, and other surveillance equipment was overwhelming. I was expecting to see a lot of weapons here; I was not expecting the guns and missiles to be outnumbered by fancy new cameras. That's a little creepy in an Orwellian kind of way, but a lot of really accurate cameras means more precise targeting with existing weapons and probably fewer mistakes in targeting. That's not a bad trade-off, and it's a real sign of the times that people here talking about "payload" were more likely to mean "cameras and sensors" than "fancy explosives."
Software is secretly king.
The secret sauce that made all the machines on display work was proprietary code, which is pretty hard to take pictures of on an exhibition floor. It also shows how much computers run everything; gun mounts, ship diagnostic tools, missile targeting systems, and self-adjusting cameras all combine hardware with fancy code to make much, much better systems compared with the individual parts alone.