Defense IT leaders outline challenges

Information technology is the only military weapons system that operates at the speed of light, and while that rapid flow of information has helped reduce the "fog of war," much work still remains to be done, according to a panel of Defense Department IT leaders.

"It's not PowerPoint anymore, not [just] in books anymore," said Lt. Gen. Joseph Kellogg, the Joint Chiefs of Staff's director of command, control, communications and computers. "IT has helped reduce the fog and friction of war. Speed and agility wins and that's what you get with IT."

Kellogg said Operation Iraqi Freedom has shown what various IT systems are capable of, including friendly force tracking at the company level within 10 meters definition, the elimination of bandwidth constraints at the strategic and operational levels, and improved communications via e-mail, chat and satellite phones.

But he cautioned that true network-centric operations, in which data is posted on networks and made available departmentwide, has yet to be achieved.

As an example, Navy officials used more than 500 chat rooms on DOD's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network during the war, and the service would like to bridge many of those to enhance the command and control (C2) applications of that collaboration, said Capt. Robert Whitkop, director of network architecture and engineering at Naval Network Warfare Command.

Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, the Army's chief information officer, said that although it is a great step forward to have the warfighters using IT tools instead of "having the C4I guys doing it for them," troops in the field need better systems.

Topping the Army's IT "needs" list are systems capable of on-the-move communications, supported by high-bandwidth satellites and spectrum-efficient wireless systems, Cuviello said during a May 7 panel discussion at the AFCEA International conference in Washington, D.C. He added that the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) will help solve some problems, but those systems need simple things, such as better batteries and fewer antennas, to be successful.

WIN-T eventually will provide soldiers on the battlefield with modern, high-speed communications, and real-time voice, video and data services. JTRS uses software-centric radios that can be programmed to patch users into various radio frequencies.

"Mobility is what it's all about," he said. "We need multiband, multifunctional equipment."

Other challenges include multilevel security, horizontal fusion of information and ensuring architectures are in place so all users can access and publish to the enterprise network, Cuviello said.

Rob Thomas, assistant deputy chief of staff for warfighting integration at the Air Force, added a few more information integration and interoperability challenges to the list, including:

* Advanced C2 capabilities.

* Enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities worldwide, including in the United States.

* Operational and emergency preparedness, including joint agreements, testing and training.

* DOD infrastructure protection.

All of the panelists asked for industry's help in overcoming the IT challenges.

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