A new plan of attack

When the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001, many observers called it the first war of the 21st century. The distinction is fitting, military observers say, because the battle waged in Afghanistan is also an early illustration of a subtle yet far-reaching transformation sweeping the Defense Department.

Perhaps the best symbol of this change, anachronistic as it may seem, is the reappearance of the cavalry in the war in Afghanistan.

Today's cavalry seems traditional enough, with horses trained to run into the line of fire, saddles fashioned from wood and saddle bags crafted from Afghan carpets. The cavalry troops — actually DOD Special Forces — also are outfitted with satellite phones and Global Positioning System devices that provide precise targeting information for B-52s to attack enemy forces.

It's that mix of the mundane and the modern that captures the spirit of transformation championed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, DOD officials say.

The introduction of modern technology, though almost invisible, has dramatically changed the impact those troops can have in battle. The new cavalry can direct the destruction of fortresses that would have been impenetrable by cavalries of old.

DOD officials believe they can bring about a magnitude of change across the department by infusing information technology into existing operations, on the battlefield and off, though often subtly.

"Introducing the horse cavalry back into modern war...was all part of the transformation plan," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz during recent testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Transformation isn't always about new systems, but using old systems in new ways with new doctrines, new types of organization, new operational concepts," he said.

Transformation, in one form or another, has been among the talking points of senior Defense officials for years. But in the past several months, Rumsfeld and the Bush administration have made it clear that DOD transformation is one of their main initiatives.

Rumsfeld made a major policy address at the National Defense University Jan. 31, in which he stressed that President Bush asked him to "fashion a new approach" to defense. The importance of transformation has been evident in a number of ways:

n The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated, comprehensive review of DOD military strategy and force structure conducted every four years, stresses a more flexible fighting force that can defend against various foes.

n In November 2001, Rumsfeld appointed retired Navy Vice. Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, considered the father of network-centric warfare, to lead DOD's newly created Office of Force Transformation.

n DOD also is making significant investments in transformation, with $20 billion earmarked for related initiatives in the fiscal 2003 budget request.

Transformation already can be observed throughout DOD's massive organization — even in the routine world of human resource systems. The Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System, for example, when deployed, will give frontline commanders the ability to find personnel with necessary skills from across DOD — regardless of their service — thereby furthering Defense agencies' ability to act jointly.

The Joint Tactical Radio System, which is actually more of a computer with a radio front end, would enable the services to communicate, something that has previously been difficult or impossible because of radio frequency problems.

The theme across DOD is interoperability to enhance flexibility. Improving communications — whether it's among troops, services or different support operations — will enable the department to deploy its forces more rapidly and effectively.

DOD plans to pour a lot of money into those initiatives, but Rumsfeld stressed that transformation goes beyond a calculation of cost. "I don't think of it in dollars," he said. "It can be simply in connectivity. It can be in interoperability. It can be in taking things that [exist currently] and managing them, using them, connecting them, arraying them in a way that has a result that is transformational."

Perhaps the most significant product of transformation so far has not been a change in technology, but a change in mind-set.

Traditionally, DOD has approached modernization from two directions, which observers usually describe in terms of a spear: the pointed end of the spear — or the technologies that improve the soldier's ability to wage war — and the handle, often referred to as the "dull end of the spear" — the back-office processes such as systems that support financial management, human resources and procurement. Upgrading and developing the "handle," although often not seen as critical to DOD's warfighting mission, can provide savings, which can then be reinvested into the fighting forces.

DOD officials view transformation as integrating both elements to provide a more cohesive view of U.S. war efforts. "They are paying attention to both ends of the spear," said Ray Bjorklund, a vice president for market research firm Federal Sources Inc.

The integration represents a transformation in and of itself, Bjorklund said. Traditionally within DOD, the "shooters" and the IT leadership have battled for funds. But as technology has become integrated into many operations, those on the front lines have begun to consider IT as the cornerstone of their operations. The effectiveness of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which have been used in the war in Afghanistan, are one example.

Bjorklund said that it was clear that IT had come into its own when Air Force chief of staff Gen. John Jumper declared the combined air operations center a weapons system, thereby ensuring certain levels of funding. The center essentially tracks what is going on and advises commanders.

A crucial element of transformation that cuts across the organization is providing information when it is needed, said Al Edmonds, president of EDS' government information solutions division.

That was a weakness the terrorists were able to exploit in preparation for the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, because data stored in disparate places — whether it be at the federal, state or local level, or spread among federal agencies — was not available for leaders to create a cohesive picture.

Those types of command and control systems have become a cornerstone for military operations, experts say.

The DOD term for such integration — command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) — is important, experts say. "There is a very strong movement toward leveraging information as a key enabler of our combat capabilities," said Air Force chief information officer John Gilligan.

The concept is at the heart of Pentagon CIO John Stenbit's drive toward network centricity, which seeks to make data available to anyone who needs it across the organization.

Gen. John Abrams, commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, said C4ISR is the single most important factor in the Objective Force, the Army's umbrella program for transformation. "C4ISR is the common thread, and that's why we've got to get it right," Abrams said.

Central to combat operations, he said, is to see first, understand first, act first and finish decisively. If a UAV is going to be a part of the transformation, for example, it must make a substantial contribution to seeing, understanding and acting first at that level and reasonably contribute to being decisive.

Abrams said that technology is an integral part of the transformation efforts, but as futuristic systems are displayed and demonstrated, "we are tempted by technology." He said that the Army must be careful not to introduce technologies now that won't be ready on time and that Army officials must be sure to think through the purpose of a technology and how it will fit into the existing environment.

Army officials are talking about a "system of systems" approach to C4ISR, in which each individual system that contributes information is designed to work with other systems, giving commanders an integrated picture.

Philip Brandler, director of the Natick, Mass., Soldier Center at the Army's Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, said that the system of systems approach, in which even a soldier is treated as a system, guards against technological missteps.

This focus on information also puts back-office operations, such as human resources, in a new light.

For such operations, "the unifying theme is that the Defense Department spends too much money, time and effort compared to what they get," said William Phillips, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers' management consulting services division, PwC Consulting.

Network centricity is necessary for backroom operations, Phillips said. As the armed forces rely on joint operations, having enterprise human resource systems that quickly and accurately notify leaders of where personnel with essential skills are becomes crucial.

Despite the promise of the new, transformed DOD, it could be difficult to work out the bugs and convince a firmly fixed military culture to change. Rumsfeld, however, noted that DOD does not need a wholesale transformation for the efforts to be successful.

In his Jan. 31 speech, he noted that the German blitzkrieg revolutionized warfare. "It was accomplished by a German military that was really only 10 [percent] or 15 percent transformed," he said. "What was revolutionary and unprecedented about the blitzkrieg was not the new capabilities the Germans employed, but rather the unprecedented and revolutionary way that they mixed new and existing capabilities."

That is what makes the cavalry outfitted with GPS units transformational, he said.

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