Technology in the nation's defense structure is an essential component in military superiority - and a component much more difficult to quantify than a Cold War-era count of soldiers and nuclear warheads.

"There has been a shift from nuclear power to technical dominance," Army Lt. Gen. William Campbell told the Deseret News between sessions of a weeklong military software conference last week in the Salt Palace Convention Center."If we can see farther, and we can shoot farther, and if we can shoot first, we will win the battle." Superior technology provides that advantage, Campbell said.

On the flip side is the realization that an enemy could use off-the-shelf computer technology as an effective weapon against the United States, which makes a potential adversary hard to detect compared to a rogue dealing in exotic weapons.

Also of great interest to defense community software experts who met in Salt Lake City is the so-called "Y2K" - or year 2000 - computer problem that will affect innumerable military devices and operations. The issue came up numerous times during sessions of the Software Technology Conference and was the topic discussed April 22 by Defense Department Y2K specialist Edna Campbell.

"This whole conference could degenerate into a Y2K discussion," Navy Rear Adm. John Gauss told the Deseret News.

Solving problems with computer systems that are either likely or destined to fail in 2000 is the Navy's top technology priority, he said.

Gauss said the Navy is approaching Y2K like a battle exercise - knowing there will be casualties and realizing not all of the casualties will be where they are expected. "The Navy is going to do an end-to-end test before the end of the year" by programming systems to think the year 2000 has arrived to see how many of the problems were correctly anticipated and dealt with. "We'll have contingency plans to see how quickly we can recover" from the unexpected system failures, he said.

About 3,500 people from military, contractor and educational institutions attended the Software Technology Conference, which celebrated its 10th year in Salt Lake City.