Iraq conflict would test joint ops

The armed services will have to work together across traditional service barriers like never before if there is a war with Iraq, military officials said, and the issue of interoperability will loom large.

The commitment of each military service to its own technology has presented the armed forces with a challenge not typically seen on the battlefield. In past conflicts, the services often operated independently of one another. But the concept of a joint force — one that uses contingents of each of the services — will require much more collaboration.

That is no small task, according to experts speaking at the AFCEA International West 2003 conference earlier this month in San Diego.

In many ways, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan was a testing ground for the technologies that may be put to use in Iraq.

"Combat operations are now inherently joint in their structure, but they have not been necessarily well operated," said Col. Keith Walker, the Army Department's chief for strategic planning, concepts and doctrine.

"By 2015 to 2020, technology will give the ability to see, understand and act before an adversary can strike. We need to build a force around a system that is designed not to survive a first strike, but to avoid being hit in the first place," he said.

John Stenbit, the Defense Department's chief information officer, said if a war does take place in Iraq, it will be the first time in U.S. history that battlefield commanders have the bandwidth and communications power they need to rely on several services to accomplish one mission.

At the Network Centric Warfare conference Jan. 22 sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement in Arlington, Va., several high-ranking DOD officials said that an emphasis on interoperability is one of the largest technological undertakings DOD has seen.

Bandwidth is "not yet out to the [individual soldier] or in the cockpit, but at an operational level, they can collaborate like crazy," Stenbit said.

Beyond working better within a service and among the combat services is the need to provide better interoperability to coalition partners and allies.

"We need to have everything working in a joint, interagency, multinational way," said Col. Robert Jones, chief of the architecture and integration division for the Army's Objective Force Task Force.

"That's how we're deploying and that's how we're fighting. I don't think the United States will ever act unilaterally again," he said.

Before the services can march arm-in-arm across the battlefield, the first steps still need to be taken toward providing a comprehensive interoperability strategy. That is going to be the ongoing challenge facing each of the services individually and DOD as a whole.

Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Kellogg Jr., director of command, control, communications and computer systems for the Joint Staff, said the ongoing war on terrorism and possible war in Iraq have illustrated some great military successes in the realm of network-centric warfare but also brought many shortcomings to light.

For example, Kellogg said that U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan and Kuwait are using collaboration tools to communicate with their troops and plan battles, which is good.

The problem is that the collaboration tools being used in the different countries are not interoperable, and that means the true vision of network-centric warfare is not being realized, he said.

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