Expert urges troops to test IT

The Defense Department's best bet to make network-centric warfare cost-effective and successful is to let warfighters test the tools to see how they can best be used on the battlefield, according to a top official in DOD's Office of Force Transformation.

Network-centric warfare seeks to make data available, as quickly as possible, to those who need it across the organization or on the battlefield. The idea is to use information technology to generate a competitive advantage, said John Garstka, assistant director of concepts and operations in the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation.

"You cannot spend money in any other way to get the increase in combat power that we're talking about," Garstka said. "Part of the challenge is if the warfighter is not given the opportunity to explore tactics, techniques and procedures and train [with the new technology], then you will not get the increases in combat power because a lot of this stuff is not intuitive."

As an example, Garstka said that experienced Air Force pilots competing in exercises with voice-only capabilities in their aircraft were beaten by their colleagues that had accrued only a fraction of the flight time but who were outfitted with data links in their machines.

Garstka, co-author of the books, "Understanding Information Age Warfare" and "Network Centric Warfare," said DOD is developing new metrics to measure the impact that IT has on information sharing and how that relates to combat power.

He added that one tool that will help the armed services' information sharing immensely is the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), which uses software-centric radios that can be programmed to patch users into various radio frequencies.

The Army last month awarded Boeing Co. an $856 million contract to spearhead the development and initial production of the first generation of JTRS, which is more than a traditional radio and also includes networking capabilities.

"It's a combination of hardware and software, not just an exchange of digital traffic," Garstka said. "There's a built-in networking capability that people don't traditionally associate with radios."

He added that JTRS, when fielded, will produce "ripple effects" throughout DOD, including the need for fewer radios; less space, weight and logistical support on aircraft and ships; and increased reliability.

Garstka acknowledged that more work is needed to get the applications that host weapons systems to interact, but JTRS' powerful networking capabilities are a definite step in the right direction.

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