There are no guns, missiles or other implements of destruction in evidence at this week's convention of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA). Anyone expecting to see a multitude of Gen. Buck Turgidsons roaming the floor, punching shoulders, snapping Juicyfruit, kicking jeep tires and stroking missile flanks will be disappointed. Instead, the exhibits reflect the increasingly sober, computerized face of contemporary warfare.
And security is loose. The AFCEA president, retired Vice Adm. Jon Boyes, says, "There are security people around keeping tabs" at the Sheraton Washington, site of the convention, but he admits entrance to the meeting is not a problem.
Would a Soviet agent learn anything from the unclassified show?
"A tremendous amount," says Boyes. "He'd learn of an aggregation of technology and development just by seeing the equipment out here. But this is a public society; we can't keep them out. There's a certain strength in letting your enemy know what you're up to." He expects the convention to attract representatives from more than 50 countries.
Though Boyes approves of the Reagan administration's support of increased military spending and its "certain spirit," he says more and more money must be directed to the "control of weapons."
"Recent events are a perfect illustration," he says while doodling a little sketch of a beachhead on a scratch pad. "The Israelis understand war and electronics. They learn their lessons well, and now in Lebanon they seem to be able to turn power on and off like a valve. The British, on the other hand, no longer understand warfare because their economy takes shortcuts. I have no doubt the entire British fleet could have been wiped out just as the Sheffield was. Let's face it, we're in the Buck Rogers age."
The convention exhibits are a flash to the future of warfare.
At the Bell Labs exhibit, Ann Hilton explains a "bubble memory" system and a new electronic chalkboard to eight gray- and blue-suited men. Although she is trying to do for bubble memory what the models at auto shows do for the latest Maserati, Hilton has to unearth wit and drama from circuitry and telemetry.
"And here's some really exciting news," she says, pointing to a chunk of machinery. Most seem bored, though, and one man wears the smirk of someone who is watching a not terribly impressive juggler. Like Victor Buono's dramatic readings from the Bible on the old "Tonight Show," Hilton's failure may have more to do with audience than material.
Like the exhibits themselves, the language in use at the convention seems to distance itself from the martial subject at hand. The names of the corporations are alliterative but remote (Repco, Ramtek, Rapicom); the brochures are lyrical ("We look forward to continuing to solve your unique coaxial requirements").
And one of the slogans of the antiwar movement comes out like this on Extel Communications's Encryption Module: "BNART WQEHL IUALC RBFIR RCTWO." The slogan is from Phil Ochs: "The War is Over." But for $12,000 and a telex machine, you too can turn it into BNART WQEHL . . .