Friendly force ID is top challenge

Despite strides made since Operation Desert Storm, identifying friendly forces during combat remains the Defense Department's top information technology challenge, a Marine Corps commander said today.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, IT provided many advantages for coalition forces, including Predator unmanned aerial vehicles providing real-time pictures of distant targets and 15 times more satellite bandwidth than what was available during Desert Storm.

But although that increased situational awareness and bandwidth is helpful, it did not completely solve the military's ability to identify friendly forces, said Lt. Gen. Martin Berndt, commander of Marine Corps Forces Atlantic.

"The human mind can't do it alone with all the inputs coming from the battlefield," Berndt said during his breakfast speech today at the AFCEA International conference in Washington, D.C. "There's no technology air-to-ground or ground-to-ground that's been completed in the services. With blue force tracking, we're getting better, but we're not there yet."

In an age when commercial shipping companies can pinpoint packages and vehicles anywhere in the world by, Berndt said that it is unacceptable that Army soldiers and Marines had to do "quick fixes" in Iraq to accomplish the same thing.

"I don't know if the technology exists, but do we really need to know where every individual is and every vehicle is?" Berndt told FCW. "We do need to know where formations, units and convoys are. We need a totally joint system that's integrated and interoperable that [commanders] can view from anywhere in the world."

In addition to combat identification, Berndt said the military must overcome numerous other IT challenges including:

* Establishing mobile, wireless command and control over extended distances.

* Using bandwidth efficiently.

* Quickly and efficiently turning data into knowledge in order to eliminate information overload.

* Rapidly exploiting technology through the streamlining of DOD's IT procurement process.

The commercial IT community maintains an edge over DOD and Berndt called on industry to help the military services overcome their technological challenges in order to maintain wartime superiority.

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