Integrating communications networks and defense systems, which lie at the heart of convergence, is tough but necessary.
The evolving combat environment has rendered the traditional strategies of the Defense Department ineffective, and the need for a joint effort across the military services is the chief catalyst for developing new approaches, according to DOD officials speaking last week at the Milcom 2009 conference in Boston.
Integrating communications networks and defense systems will not be easy but is necessary, several senior military leaders said. The toughest challenges include quickly fielding new technology, managing all the elements of the international coalition effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, and finding funding to facilitate the transition.
“Today it’s a constant fight. The good old days of traditional warfare, when it was us vs. them” are over, and the center of power has shifted from military might to communications, said Lt. Gen. Ted Bowlds, commander of the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. With modernization struggles and grim budget realities, “we’re going to have to be a lot smarter with doing what we can with what we’ve got.”
In a networked world, the greatest challenge relates to data solutions, Bowlds said. New technologies can quickly become passé, and the military needs to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies that quickly deliver information capabilities to service members on the ground, which is the biggest yet most important hurdle to overcome.
“If we aren’t careful, our [technology] will become a dinosaur because the technology moves so fast,” Bowlds said. “We do everything we can to get the technology in the hands of the warfighter in less than 12 months, because if we don’t get it there in less than 12 months, that technology is worthless."
Achieving this goal will require a shift in traditional defense thinking, several military leaders said during conference presentations.
Across the board, conference speakers called for joint communications and coalition operations, in addition to a renewed strategic approach to defense — a familiar refrain in the defense world as the path forward on two war fronts remains unclear.
“We can no longer afford to go it alone. We have to work together,” said Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dennis Via. He also highlighted the need for common standards, centralized governance, and improved command and control, in addition to speedy deployment of capabilities.
The need to evolve military strategy emerges from a dynamic threat that is constantly changing. “No longer can we believe threats can be easily categorized," said former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "We have to tear down these categories and rebuild” an approach that engages terrestrial and cyber warfare.
Chertoff added that modern threats require a coalition that includes military services, government, industry and the general public. “Since we never know how the threat will come, we need everybody to be involved in homeland defense,” he said, calling for convergent tactics to address national security. “Technology will be a major part of tackling the evolving threat."