Failure to communicate
- By Dan Verton, George I. Seffers
- Jun 12, 2000
When the Pentagon released its new strategic road map last month that outlined
how it plans to prepare for the high-tech battlefields of the future, it
confirmed what senior officials and experts have said for years: The U.S.
needs its allies and coalition partners.
"Early 21st-century warfare will be dramatically different," said Jacques
Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, at a
NATO conference in 1998. "In the future, we will most likely be involved
in more limited — but almost always — coalition engagements."
Last year, Defense Secretary William Cohen also underscored the importance
of coalitions and alliances, such as NATO, in a speech at the Munich Conference
on Security Policy. He urged NATO to adopt a common vision that would enable
it to "endure" the stresses and strains of military campaigns such as Operation
Joint Endeavor in Bosnia.
"There were no pre—existing communications, no pre—existing logistics,
no headquarters or other infrastructure," Cohen said about Joint Endeavor.
"Of course, in the Book of Proverbs, we know that "Where there is no vision,
the people perish,' and so we have to have a common vision."
So why are some experts now warning of a growing technology gap between
the United States and its partners that could put U.S. soldiers at risk?
Part of the reason, experts argue, is that the Pentagon's new strategic
plan, known as Joint Vision 2020 (JV 2020), released last month, doesn't
focus much attention on improving communications and networking between
the United States and its allies. The picture painted by military analysts
depicts a future in which the U.S. military is technologically unplugged
from many of its key allies in Europe.
The problems that could result from the technology gap are daunting.
According to some U.S. military officers, the gap often forces longer deployments
on U.S. communications specialists because the United States is forced to
install and maintain communications networks for all alliance members. Technical
mismatches could also open up significant security gaps in U.S./European
networks and promote confusion during military operations, according to
a recent study by the federally funded Rand Arroyo Center. The capabilities
gap could even force the United States to shoulder more of the burden during
future crises, the Rand study concluded.
JV 2020 replaces the Pentagon's first strategic planning document, Joint
Vision 2010, which was published in 1996. The goal of JV 2010 was to develop
a template that would help DOD wage what has become known as network-centric
warfare. The concept puts networks — with their ability to disseminate information
quickly — at the center of the Pentagon's military strategy [FCW, Nov. 1,
But since the publication of JV 2010, the advancement of information
technologies has radically altered the landscape of the modern battlefield,
forcing the Pentagon to expand its vision another 10 years. Joint Vision
2020 attempts to define how IT will continue to "substantially change the
conduct of military operations," and it lays out the military's plan for
how it will organize, equip, train and harness the power of IT through 2020.
However, the new vision is "centered on the joint force in 2020" and
not the allied or coalition force, according to the document. The vision
accepts a future in which "potential multinational partners will have varying
levels of technology" and where coalitions and allies "may be technologically
incompatible — especially at the tactical level." Rather than making multinational
operations a major and separate thrust of the new vision, JV 2020 states
that "a tailored approach to interoperability that accommodates a wide range
of needs and capabilities is necessary."
Although the U.S. military has made great strides to revolutionize command,
control, communications and intelligence operations through the use of emerging
IT, it has done so in a way that risks creating an environment in which
the U.S. military may be forced to "go it alone" during the next major
military crisis, according to a recent study conducted for the Army by the
Rand Arroyo Center.
"If sufficient preparation for interoperability has not been made, future
American forced-entry operations may resemble the tragic first days of our
ground involvement on the Korean Peninsula in the summer of 1950 more than
Desert Storm," wrote Brian Nichiporuk in "Forecasting the Effects of Army
XXI Design Upon Multinational Force Capability."
In fact, the Army's current effort to field a fully digitized force,
known as Army XXI, may "make it more difficult to operate as part of a multinational
force" in the future, according to the Rand study. It could also weaken
key alliances, such as NATO, which is preparing to take a more active role
in quelling global disturbances farther away from its traditional European
operating area, the study concluded.
"If, for example, the West European members of NATO do not have the
ability to operate side-by-side with U.S. Army XXI units, there would be
incentives on both sides of the Atlantic to downgrade the role of NATO as
an out-of-area actor," Nichiporuk wrote. "On the U.S. side, there would
be the perception that European participation in a given operation would
only slow down the U.S. Army."
In addition, the Europeans could regard such a development as a desire
by the United States to "undertake more unilateral actions on the periphery
of Europe," he said.
Either way, Nichiporuk draws firm conclusions that a significant capabilities
gap will likely emerge during the next five to 10 years that might be impossible
to solve with technology alone.
Vision vs. Reality
The disconnect between reality and the Pentagon's plan to extend its
new joint vision to multinational operations can be seen in the results
of a recent communications and networking exercise held last month in Germany.
Combined Endeavor 2000, a two-week military exercise sponsored by the
U.S. European Command, tested the tactical communications systems of 35
nations, many of which are members of NATO and the Partnership for Peace
program. The annual Combined Endeavor exercise emerged after the Gulf War
to intensify military and political cooperation with European nations and
includes participation of NATO countries as well as nations from Eastern
Europe and the former Soviet Union. The results showed that the United States
has ignored the pressing requirement to procure equipment that meets the
communications standard being adopted by NATO.
For example, the Air Force's Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE)
could not establish effective communications with coalition partners because
the switch used by JCSE did not support the European version of the Integrated
Services Digital Network, which NATO uses as its standard interface for
Likewise, the Army's 7th Signal Brigade was forced to conduct all of
its video teleconferencing tests using an unencrypted network link. Video
teleconferencing has become a key command and control tool for almost all
The growing digital divide between the United States and its allies
is having a detrimental impact on U.S. retention and morale, according to
Army Lt. Col. Ronald Stimeare, exercise director during Combined Endeavor
2000. "People are getting out. When asked why, the answer is that "I'm always
in the field; I'm always deployed. My wife is ready to leave me, and my
kids don't know who I am," Stimeare said.
The simple answer to these problems, according to Stimeare, is interoperability.
"Instead of spending money on putting more equipment out there every time
we want to talk to our allies and giving them all of the equipment, let's
put the money into the interfaces instead," he said. "It costs a whole lot
less to develop an interface card than it does to send troops and equipment.
To me, that's the blinding flash of the obvious."
Can It Be Done?
The United States and NATO have already started to improve the alliance's
technical capabilities through a program called the Defense Capabilities
Initiative. In addition, NATO has issued an updated "Strategic Concept"
document and has adopted a new focus on becoming lighter, leaner and more
deployable through the use of cutting-edge technologies.
But some have hinted at the need for an "Allied Vision 2020." Some observers
say an allied vision would be valuable, especially for ensuring interoperability
among the allies, but they warn that drafting such a document presents numerous
"An allied vision would be a tremendous next step," said Anthony Valletta,
former acting assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications
and intelligence. "The goal is a good one, but to execute it would be difficult.
It would have to be really prioritized, and the nations would have to put
their best feet forward."
Although NATO has earmarked a significant portion of its common funding
for enhancements to allied C3I interoperability, it faces a multitude of
political and funding challenges that any one nation has yet to find an
answer to. For example, NATO's political structure requires all major programs
to be vetted through a committee system, allowing some nations to disregard
the alliance's C3I priorities in favor of their own national priorities.
Because of these difficulties, some experts question whether drafting
an allied vision is possible at all.
"It would be extremely difficult to accomplish, almost to the point
of being impossible," said Ted Smith, president of Top Line Co., a military
marketing analysis firm. "When you get right down to it, nationalism rules."
Smith also said joint efforts often are ineffective. Joint procurement efforts,
for example, are "a shambles."
Smith also questioned whether vision statements such as JV 2020 really
matter in the long run. "[Vision statements] are a little like posture statements,
which aren't worth the paper they're written on," he said. "I don't think
people really pay attention to them any more."
Still, a senior NATO official active in managing the alliance's emerging
C3I programs, said that although he hasn't read the new JV 2020 document
yet, interoperability is an obstacle NATO must overcome. "It is hard enough
to get four services to agree to one vision," the official said. "Can you
imagine getting all the services of 19 nations and 28 partners to agree?
A daunting challenge, but one we must face if we are to move ahead."
Rand study author Nichi-poruk said it may be better to take small steps
toward creating an allied vision rather than attempting to lay out a complete
communications road map.
"Over time, these smaller steps could lead to a de facto [command and
control] vision for NATO," Nichiporuk said. "Regardless of how things proceed
in that area, I do believe the U.S. needs to promulgate its own Joint Vision
because of our long-term requirement to be able to operate within ad hoc
coalitions outside of NATO. Any NATO C2 vision that develops over time should
complement, but not replace, America's own Joint Vision."