'Jointness': The new battlefield watchword in data sharing

Defense Department officials have been pushing the military services to meet modern warfare needs by working together. But “jointness,” as it’s often called within the armed forces, is easier said than done.

As operational needs evolve, so have its inherent requirements. Better technology, better situational awareness and better communications have become the imperatives that drive military decision-making. And at the center of it all: information sharing.

“Going without joint efforts is obsolete,” Gen. James Mattis, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, told members of Congress recently. “In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — …you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete.”

However, working together isn’t easy, particularly among the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, where turf battles and internecine competition are as old as the services themselves. This disjointed culture is slowly adapting to the Information Age, but as any Pentagon official will say, it isn’t happening overnight.

Beyond the cultural resistance, however, information sharing is also obstructed by splintered networks and messaging systems. Disparate capabilities in technology and communications hinder coordination on the ground. Synchronization is hampered by the sheer mass of the military effort. And there remain questions over just how to integrate all the various pieces into a single, enterprisewide solution.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all world," said Glen White, technical director of the Program Executive Office for Command and Control Capabilities at the Defense Information Systems Agency. "There [are] a wide variety of capabilities. How do we support everybody?”

Nevertheless, jointness is the goal. It’s behind every effort DOD takes on these days, particularly in one of the biggest issues the department faces: data sharing.

And progress is being made. Several programs, particularly those under DISA, are breaking the silos that have long impeded coordination.

DISA’s groundbreaking Forge.mil collaborative environment offers a secure platform for information sharing and software development across programs. Here, users from the Defense Department, other federal agencies and even approved defense contractors can work together on projects that previously would have required in-person meetings.

Forge.mil has more than 2,000 users and roughly 100 projects under way, according to project director Rob Vietmeyer.

DISA itself is taking on an active role in fostering jointness by providing the infrastructure for shared communications and data. Before stepping down this summer as DISA’s director of strategic planning and information, John Garing said the agency could end up housing data centers that would be run by the military and help facilitate data sharing. “We need to spread data around the enterprise,” Garing said. It’s a mission DISA is taking seriously with an active role in information-sharing efforts.

On the ground, troops are using the Tactical Ground Reporting system to share intelligence gained from patrols and other activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. TIGR is like a wiki on steroids: Detailed maps contain clickable pinpoints for data on certain locations and trouble spots, complete with satellite imagery and messaging tools gleaned from social media.

TIGR offers 360-degree street-level patrol views and 400 miles of street coverage in Iraq. Mapping in Afghanistan is under way, said Mari Maeda, the program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency who helped create TIGR.

Currently deployed by the Army, TIGR is in use by more than 50,000 service members and is on track for expansion, developers say.

NATO’s Afghan Mission Network is another key tool for joint efforts. The freshly operational, secured network acts as a single repository that offers a situational picture on the ground in Afghanistan. Insiders call it a game-changer because the network is used by all coalition forces, including Afghan authorities.

Those solutions have one thing in common: They’re built for information sharing, and officials agree that’s the backbone of jointness.

“A critical thinker/warrior will know how to acquire knowledge, process information from multiple sources, and make timely, accurate decisions in complex, ethically challenging and ever-changing environments,” Gen. Mattis said in testimony before Congress in May.

Through those solutions and others like them, the coordination of multiple information sources is slowly building a seamless defense.

 

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