Military must improve battlefield communication

The U.S. military must drastically improve the way its forces share and manage vital information on the battlefield to prevail in future conflicts, and the Defense Department should increasingly lean on commercial information technology to make those improvements, according to a recent report by DOD's Defense Science Board.

The report is the result of a 2006 study commissioned by Kenneth Krieg, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. He tasked the board to examine DOD's progress toward achieving what he called a "robust and adaptive net-centric enterprise." DOD officials released the report earlier this month.

Warfighters conducting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are often unable to get the crucial information they need whenever they need it, according to the report. The problem stems partly from persisting interoperability issues between the services, sometimes forcing soldiers and Marines to use personal cell phones provided by family members or chat rooms as makeshift information-sharing tools.

As science board officials interviewed military operators with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, "It became quite clear that the United States has considerable deficiencies in its ability to manage information to command and control units in the field," the report concludes.

According to the panelists, the use of widely available commercial IT is key to bringing the military closer to its vision of net-centricity. But while DOD has been promoting the procurement of commercial-off-the-shelf technology for some years, these systems are often customized to DOD specifications during the Pentagon's Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System process, they said

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England should create and resource what the DSB panelists called a "Combat Information Capability," based on the Global Information Grid and protected by high assurance Internet Protocol encryption devices, the report recommended. This capability should be treated as a "critical defense weapon system," the report said, and it should encompass:
  • Information management services for tactical users.
  • Dynamic management of distributed intelligence.
  • Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.
  • Appropriate and necessary information assurance and security.
  • Operations with degraded networks.
  • And, operations with coalition partners, nongovernmental organizations, civilian agencies and state and local governments.

Sebastian Sprenger writes for Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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