Command, control and change

Defense Department leaders have said for months that the time is right to begin the long journey toward a military "transformation." But time might not be on their side.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld began work in January, charged with transforming the military—in part by skipping a generation of technology — from a Cold War relic to a lighter, more flexible, more rapidly deployable 21st century force. That force should be capable of coping with the range of missions the military faces, including humanitarian activities, peacekeeping, antiterrorism, cyberconflict and all-out war.

But Rumsfeld's objective has been put on hold while Pentagon officials concentrate on maintaining the existing force.

In terms of strategy, the military remains in a sort of purgatory while awaiting completion of the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review. Rumsfeld hasn't fully articulated his vision of a future military, and lawmakers and top military officials are publicly and privately complaining about being left out of the transformation process.

Among the uniformed military, there is no widespread support for transformation, according to Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Compounded by a shrinking budget surplus, a souring economy and less than overwhelming support from Congress, that lack of support poses a problem in delivering the money needed for such a transformation.

"If you look at the challenge of changing a large organization, you realize that time is not on Rumsfeld's side," Krepin.evich said. "My assessment right now is that Rumsfeld is still in the transformation game. He hasn't lost that opportunity, but the oddsare a bit longer than they were when he first showed up."

The transformation presumably includes new ships, jet fighters, ground combat systems, business practices and combat tactics. But just as important, it requires advances in information technologies—especially those used for commanding and controlling combat forces.

Military officials who would be integral to transforming DOD's command and control structure say the time is right for change.

"It's just the right constellation of technology, culture, attitude and necessity that is now pulling us into a new environment," said David Ozo.lek, deputy director of the Joint Forces Command joint futures laboratory. "We are on the very, very near edge of the overall transformation objective and the potential of what we can transform to in this decade."

Part of the reason for optimism in command and control circles is that the Pentagon wants Vice Adm. Art Cebrowski, president of the Naval War College and a respected military IT leader, to head the transformation programs office. DOD has proposed establishing the office and provided $5 million in funding in its 2002 budget request. DOD Comptroller Dov Zakheim said the office will "be the advocate of transformation programs, the coordinator, to make sure that we're meeting our objectives."

Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin would only confirm Cebrowski is "being considered." But no other names have surfaced.

Rumsfeld himself has touted the benefits of IT, especially the joint command and control concepts and technologies being tested at Joint Forces Command, Norfolk, Va. In a recent article on the Pentagon's home page (www.defenselink.mil), Rumsfeld discussed the need for a deployable joint command and control headquarters.

Joint Forces Command is experimenting with a concept called Defense Online, a militarized version of America Online, which among other things will allow military commanders to meet with an array of experts in secure virtual rooms and develop the comprehensive knowledge needed to make decisions more rapidly than their enemies.

"Speed is important. That is, the ability to do things early can make a big difference," Rumsfeld said.

In addition, new weapon systems have to be developed during a period of years, but the technologies for the Defense Online concept are inexpensive and available commercially, officials say.

The Defense budget constraints that hinder the buying of new ships and planes actually aid in the quest for a virtual command and control center, according to officials. The ultimate goal in command and control is building a truly joint system that allows all the military services to seamlessly share data. That boosts efficiency and reduces death by friendly fire. As the budget gets tighter, the services will be forced to share resources in building command and control systems.

"There's a sense of necessity permeating through the department," said Bob Knuth, a knowledge management expert at Joint Forces Command. "We all recognize budgets are going to continue to be constrainedand we may now have the right set of conditions to change and to do a better job."

Much work lies ahead. Despite indications that long-held attitudes about fighting wars may be shifting at some levels, persuading the conservative military culture to support transformation efforts remains a major challenge.

"Everyone wants transformation. Nobody wants change," Knuth said.

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