DOD seeks common data strategy

Information culture changes needed to fight the ‘long war'

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The military must jettison its long-standing concepts regarding information ownership and integrate information technology systems to enable the military to fight jointly, according to two high-ranking generals.

“Our legacy systems just don’t talk to each other,” said Gen. Lance Smith, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command. “And the reason for that is somebody thought that there was data that was unique to them. We have to build a culture that is gathering that kind of information and making it available to commanders in the field.”

Smith called for the military to agree on an enforceable, integrated data strategy. The military services have set up data fiefdoms to protect their information, Smith said.

“We don’t have good standards out there,” he added. “We have to agree on a common data model, which is our responsibility.”

The Office of the Secretary of Defense has issued guidelines for data cohesion, but meeting them will take time, said Lt. Gen. Michael Peterson, the Air Force’s chief of warfighting integration and chief information officer. Peterson and Smith spoke last week at the Air Force IT Conference.

OSD, the Joint Forces Command and the Defense Information Systems Agency “are leading the fight to get us to a net- enabled command and control, which will prescribe how to get to that enforceable data architecture,” Peterson said.

But because of the ongoing wars, the services must maintain older systems while working on future ones, Peterson said. “You cannot take the key and turn off what we’re doing today, harvest the resources, and go build something new,” he added. “These will have to run in parallel until they can converge.”

The war in Iraq has revealed the perils of existing, incompatible systems. In initial battles, the visibility of U.S. troops was poor. “When we went to war in Iraq, there were seven blue-force trackers in the field, and none of them talked to each other,” Smith said.

The warfighters now have a common operating picture in which they can view all U.S. forces together. But old habits of protecting information still prevent them from accomplishing their missions as safely as possible, he added.

For example, the Secret IP Router Network contains a huge database of information on improvised explosive devices, Smith said. But warfighters on the ground in Iraq don’t have access to SIPRNET, which is the classified section of DOD’s Global Information Grid, and can’t benefit from the database.

The lack of integrated data systems also hampered U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Smith said. “I can’t begin to tell you how much of that $18 billion was spent on just trying to get systems to talk to one another,” he said. “That’s an investment that should have been spent on reconstruction or fighting.”

The Air Force is experimenting with a net-enabled data architecture at its Air and Space Operations Centers. The architecture does not depend on specific software and can serve as a template for command and control applications, Peterson said. The Air Force plans to test the new system with the Strategic Command next year.

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