DOD must step up to fix IT links

Many agencies fail to create seamless links between computer systems that reside in different offices, divisions and bureaus. The lack of interoperability may be a nuisance or, at worst, slow down work, but never has incompatibility endangered lives.

However, a General Accounting Office report has concluded that many of the military's command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems (C4I) are not compatible. The result: Lack of interoperability threatens troops' lives and puts equipment and supplies at risk.

That's a big problem for the Defense Department, which is becoming increasingly reliant on information technology and on a coordinated effort among the three services for everything from peacekeeping missions to all-out war.

Although most incompatibility problems have been isolated to war games— such as mistakenly identifying a simulated commercial airline as a hostile aircraft and shooting it down— real-life mishaps, or even catastrophes, are a real possibility.

It would be easy for the Pentagon to dismiss interoperability problems as yet another item on a growing list of IT fires that demand immediate attention and more funding to correct. Indeed, the Year 2000 problem and computer security are high-profile, perplexing problems that demand time and money to fix.

But when soldiers' lives are threatened, the Pentagon must find a way to make the necessary changes. That requires strong leadership— for everything from asking Congress for more money to designating someone to ensure that these systems support the joint warfighting capabilities that the department envisions and clearly requires.

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