DOD uses IT in stability operations
Forthcoming policy will define new rules for sharing data with NGOs and other groups
More than a year after Pentagon leaders declared stabilization and reconstruction operations a core mission of the military, the Defense Department’s information technology community is defining its role in those operations.
Defense officials will unveil a new policy, most likely by the end of summer, that details the role that information and communications technology should play in stabilization and reconstruction, said Al Johnson, director of integrated information and communications technology in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration.
The new policy will complement DOD’s November 2005 Directive 3000.05, which elevated the profile of stabilization and reconstruction operations to that of traditional combat operations, Johnson told Federal Computer Week after his speech June 5 at a conference sponsored by AFCEA International.
Operations to rebuild countries devastated by war have gained prominence at the Pentagon in recent years as U.S. forces face violent extremists and sectarian violence in Iraq. However, progress in using IT in stability operations has been slow, Johnson said. “We are several yards behind the starting line in putting technical solutions in place.”
A central theme of the new policy will be defining the ground rules for sharing unclassified information among the U.S. military and foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations and international agencies, Johnson said. Poor information sharing among federal agencies and international organizations remains at the heart of many problems in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, officials have said.
Although DOD officials in the past five years have emphasized improving the flow of secret information between U.S. forces and coalition partners, unclassified information sharing still is considered a niche operation, Johnson said.
The Pentagon regards the help of civilian organizations as critical for all types of reconstruction work, from restoring electricity and water infrastructure to setting up a court system. Although some of the combatant commands and military agencies have developed their own solutions to information sharing problems, the military lacks an overarching IT architecture to connect all these efforts, Johnson said.
In addition, limitations often attached to unclassified information — such as “for official use only,” “unclassified but sensitive” or “pre-decisional” — make sharing data with civilian agencies impossible, he added.
Johnson said the emerging Defense Knowledge Online portal will help resolve many information sharing issues, but the system’s exact role in stability operations has yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, the Army is undertaking efforts to improve how the ground service conducts stability operations. To that end, service officials recently crafted a draft action plan to complement the Army Campaign Plan. The draft document requires the service’s chief information officer to develop or identify a servicewide solution for unclassified information sharing with nonmilitary organizations, according to sources familiar with the draft.
Giving civilian organizations — many of which show up during crises with little or no prior notice — a means of accessing Defense networks and portals is largely an unresolved issue, officials have said.
Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, who leads the Joint Chief Staff’s command, control, communications and computer systems directorate, said the military should start seeking authentication mechanisms other than the Common Access Card system so unanticipated users can quickly plug into vital networks.
In the technology realm, the military’s experience in Iraq has led to the fielding of new systems that many forces on the ground say are helpful in fighting violent extremists there. In military doctrine, counterinsurgency operations are closely linked to stability operations because they provide an environment peaceful enough for reconstruction work to succeed.