Technology gap threatens NATO alliance, Cohen says

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Defense Secretary William Cohen today warned lawmakers that the air war in Kosovo revealed a growing gap in high-tech command, control, communications and intelligence technologies between the United States and its NATO allies that could threaten the alliance's ability to respond to future crises.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Cohen, along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Henry Shelton, provided what he called a "quick look" at the official lessons learned report from Operation Allied Force. The completed report is scheduled to be delivered to Congress in January.

While many of the Pentagon's high-tech systems worked better than expected during the 78-day air campaign, which was routinely hampered by poor weather, Cohen said the gaps in high-tech communications capability between the United States and other NATO countries were "real," persisted throughout the crisis and significantly hampered NATO's effectiveness.

"The lack of interoperable secure communications forced reliance on nonsecure methods that compromised operational security," Cohen said, adding that the technology gap forced the United States to carry out almost all of the air strikes requiring precision-guided munitions.

"Such disparities in capabilities will seriously affect our ability to operate as an effective alliance over the long term," Cohen said.

Cohen warned committee members that allowing the gap to continue could "result in political consequences" in the future that could threaten NATO's stability.

To address NATO's technological shortfalls, Cohen and Shelton urged lawmakers to support the Defense Capabilities Initiative. The DCI, adopted formally at this year's NATO Summit in Washington, D.C., aims to enhance NATO capabilities in command, control and information systems, logistics, mobility and other areas [FCW, May 3].

Kosovo provided the United States with a "real-world laboratory" to test the concepts and technologies behind the Defense Department's effort to create seamless battlefield communications, surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence support across the services, Shelton said. The effort is known as Joint Vision 2010. NATO's DCI "very much parallels our own Joint Vision 2010," Shelton said.

Allied Force "demonstrated the urgent need to pursue the DCI" Cohen said. "We [and NATO] have already started to take measures to fill the deficiencies. They now understand [and] have agreed to do that."

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