IT lessons emerge from Kosovo

Montgomery, Ala.—In one of the first pubic discussions of lessons learned from the 78-day military operation in Yugoslavia, senior Air Force officials today credited advancements in information technology for what they called the first successful military campaign to rely on air power alone.

Speaking to a crowd of military communications specialists and industry representatives here at the 13th annual Air Force Information Technology Conference, Lt. Gen. William Donahue, the Air Force's director of communications, called Operation Allied Force the first real cyberwar and the first successful test of the Air Force's IT-centric warfighting strategies.

In Kosovo, "we had a chance to combat-test our doctrine and our vision," Donahue said. He added that a key capability known as "reach-back," which relies heavily on IT to move information from around the world back to the United States, "is a reality" that was made possible by the Air Force's ability to install extremely high-capacity data links where needed in a short amount of time.

According to Donahue, the level of effort expired during Allied Force was larger than that required for Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and was "the first time that [communications] bandwidth was not a limiting factor."

In addition to being characterized by an extensive use of commercial IT products, including commercial satellite access and World Wide Web-enabled processes, Operation Allied Force saw one of the first concerted cyberwar campaigns against U.S. systems.

Although the attacks were not very sophisticated, they came from a variety of sources, Donahue said. "In some cases it was the Serbs and in some cases it was Serb sympathizers," he said. However, "there were some people that came at us with [Internet Protocol] addresses that [resided] in China," Donahue said. Fortunately, said Donahue, "they were about as effective as the Serbian air defense system was."

Lt. Gen. Leslie F. Kenne, the commander of the Electronic Systems Center, said the success of the U.S.-led air war in Kosovo "depended heavily on the timely flow of accurate information."

In particular, Kenne pointed to the performance of the Mobile Microwave Landing System, which assisted pilots with data for approaches and precision landings during hazardous weather conditions around the Balkans, which Kenne said was a recurring problem. "The air war would have been severely hindered" without this system, Kenne said.

"Kosovo saw a substantial maturity in our operations," Donahue said. "It showed [that] our concepts for an expeditionary Air Force are the right ones."

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