DOD's tunnel vision
The Pentagon plans to make information technology as much a part of warfare
and peacekeeping operations as bullets are. But it has yet to reconcile
its IT plans with the other unavoidable reality of present and future warfare:
The Pentagon's idea of future warfare, as outlined in its recently released
Joint Vision 2020 plan, has IT supporting every component of a military
action, from organization to training to equipping to supplying to fighting.
For years, top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary William Cohen,
have acknowledged that the U.S. military must be prepared to fight alongside
allies to defeat a common enemy. But the Pentagon has done little to make
the vision a reality.
And not much is being done to correct it. The problem of U.S. military
information systems being able to seamlessly talk to allied information
systems has been a problem since the Gulf War in 1990. Nine years later,
in October 1999, officials with the Government Electronics and Information
Technology Association reported that, based on the bombing campaign of Yugoslavia
six months before, command, control, communications, computers and intelligence
interoperability "is currently the weakest link in coalition warfare." The
association also called the lack of interoperability "a wake-up call" for
the Defense Department.
To be sure, the task of linking the 19 NATO countries is a daunting
one, to say the least. The United States also has a dozen or more other
nations with which it would need to negotiate standards and interoperability
guidelines. No small task.
But the future, as the Pentagon has pointed out, is not the United States
vs. the Soviet Union in a grand showdown; it's a tightly knit group of nations
working together to subdue rogue nations and enforce peace accords. That
would mean an unprecedented effort to connect allied nations.
Unless the United States wants to "go it alone," as Joint Vision 2020
notes — typically unpopular with the public — the Pentagon needs to make
interoperability a top priority and convince Congress to fund it.