Failure to communicate

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,

1997].

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."

Tunnel Vision

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

tactical communications.

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

U.S. commanders.

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

challenges.

"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."

Featured

  • IT Modernization
    Eisenhower Executive Office Building (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

    OMB's user guide to the MGT Act

    The Office of Management and Budget is working on a rules-of-the-road document to cover how agencies can seek and use funds under the MGT Act.

  • global network (Pushish Images/Shutterstock.com)

    As others see us -- a few surprises

    A recent dinner with civil servants from Asia delivered some interesting insights, Steve Kelman writes.

  • FCW Perspectives
    cloud (Singkham/Shutterstock.com)

    A smarter approach to cloud

    Advances in cloud technology are shifting the focus toward choosing the right tool for the job and crafting solutions that truly modernize systems.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.