War shapes IT priorities

Lessons learned will guide network-centric warfare

Louis Ray, president of Matcom International Corp., said wireless, networked sensors could protect long supply lines from "asymmetric" attacks.

U.S. troops now marching on Baghdad face the deadly prospect of close-in, door-to-door fighting when they reach the city.

In October 1993, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu, Somalia, during a disastrous raid in a similar urban environment. Sent to capture two lieutenants of a local warlord, most of the U.S. Special Forces troops did not know the neighborhoods, quickly got lost and, in many cases, could not communicate directly with each other.

This time around in Baghdad, however, many of the soldiers will find themselves in neighborhoods that look familiar, thanks to 3-D simulation software that models 400 square kilometers of the Iraqi city.

The software, developed by Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., has been shipped to the Middle East over the past few months, enabling military personnel there to sit at laptop computers and study the streets, buildings and landmarks of the city.

One soldier who has used the new Baghdad simulation served in Mogadishu and took part in the street battle. According to Joe Nemethy, product manager for the software, the soldier said: "If I'd had this in Somalia, we never would have gone in."

In the same way that U.S. successes and failures in recent conflicts -- from the first Persian Gulf War to Mogadishu to Afghanistan -- guided developments in military training, tactics and systems, the current war in Iraq will provide valuable lessons.

This is especially true for the sophisticated weapons, targeting, communications and information technology systems now deployed by the military. Many of these systems are getting their first test under battle conditions. Military experts and industry officials said Operation Iraqi Freedom will serve as a guidepost for the next iteration of network-centric warfare.

"The future of the battlefield from our standpoint is greater reliance on information management and information flow, rather than weapons," said Christopher Hellman, senior research analyst with the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan think tank. "The full force multiplier is not the individual weapons, but the system. The backbone is IT systems."

The Defense Department budget for fiscal 2003 is $364.6 billion, including about $27 billion for communications, networks and other information technologies. Defense spending is expected to grow to almost $400 billion by 2005, with $28.2 billion allocated for IT, according to Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm based in McLean, Va.,

The military has adopted formal procedures for processing lessons learned from a conflict, said Michael Baranick, executive director of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University in Washington.

Several agencies and outside organization,s such as the center and the Rand Corp., are responsible for gathering information, conducting interviews, reviewing classified and nonclassified documents and communications, and then drawing conclusions.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked the National Defense University to provide lessons learned from Operation Anaconda, the mission to dig Taliban and al Qaeda troops out of the mountains of Afghanistan, Baranick said. Myers was briefed March 31 on the lessons of the operation, he said. In early July, Myers will hold a Joint Lessons Learned Conference at the university.

Such reviews provide opportunities for defense contractors to get feedback about ways to improve their weapons, communications and information systems, Baranick said.

As for lessons already learned from the current conflict, Hellman said one area needing improvement is the development of more effective systems for identifying friends from foes on the battlefield to reduce friendly fire incidents.

U.S. and British troops have mistakenly fired on their own men and each other several times, including an American A-10 "tank buster" aircraft that fired on British armored vehicles, a U.S. Patriot missile that shot down a British Tornado fighter jet, and an F-16 pilot who shot at a Patriot missile battery.

Retired Navy Adm. Bob Frick was the senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense after the first Persian Gulf War and through the events in Somalia. Now president of Plano, Texas-based Perot Systems Corp.'s defense services division, Frick said the recent incident in which a tank maintenance unit apparently made a wrong turn outside the city of Nasiriyah demonstrates another area ripe for improvement.

Frick said the unit probably had a portable global positioning system "with the latest set of data in it, which may or may not have been enough to operate on." Upgrades to allow real-time tracking by a command post could lead to correcting such wrong turns, he said, or would enable the unit to communicate with the post, report being under fire and call in for support.

As coalition forces move toward Baghdad, the challenge of protecting long supply lines also has become evident, said Louis Ray, president of Matcom International Corp., an IT firm in Alexandria, Va. "Maneuver warfighting can leave logistics lines vulnerable to asymmetric tactics," he said.

To address that problem, Ray suggested the development of wireless, networked sensor arrays that could send out alerts when they detect anything that threatened the supply route. These small, portable sensors could be distributed from a wheeled or tracked vehicle to put up what essentially would be a barrier along the route, he said.

Ray said these capabilities exist, but only in two areas: wired from sensor to sensor and satellite-based. Both are very expensive.

In contrast, the wireless sensor arrays would be "disposable," he said.

Other improvements in logistics are likely as the military learns from its successes and failures. Joseph Kampf, president and chief executive officer of Anteon International Corp., Fairfax, Va., recalled problems with logistics during the first Gulf War, when crates of undistributed supplies sat in Kuwaiti warehouses for days.

"We delivered all our materiel and supplies to the Kuwaiti desert ... but there were no asset tracking systems in the Air Force to know where all the materials were shipped to, nor what was in the containers," he said.

Out of that headache, Anteon built the Cargo Movement Operations System -- "the FedEx of the Air Force," Kampf called it -- which keeps track of every item and container. The software started out in a hardwired DOS version, but over the last 10 years it has migrated from Windows to Web-based to a distributed model than can be used in the field via personal digital assistants and laptops.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington, said the military has to improve its training in using technology and not just the technology itself.

"There are problems with GPS because of poorly trained personnel," Thompson said. In Afghanistan last year, a "poor guy called in an air strike on his own position, because he didn't realize his GPS device had recalibrated to that spot when he put in new batteries."

Another lesson the military has to pursue further is that while smart bombs are "clearly a revolution in targeting," they have to become cheaper, Thompson said.

"We had precision targeting in the past, but we didn't have cheap precision targeting," he said. "One lesson of [Operation] Iraqi Freedom isn't just precision, but affordability ... If we had done this entire attack with cruise missiles, we would have expended close to $20 billion already."

One area getting a lot of attention since the war in Afghanistan is the development of more sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Perot Systems' Frick said the Clinton administration was determined to develop technologies that would avoid casualties.

"They drove the technology, drove the Army and the Navy on how we can support a mission with unmanned vehicles," Frick said. "I think [UAVs] will have a much more significant role in the future." *

Staff Writer Patience Wait can be reached at pwait@postnewsweektech.com.

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