Iraq shows IT work needed

The Defense Department needs to do more to ensure its battlefield commanders have a comprehensive, integrated view of the battle, according to military leaders discussing initial lessons learned from the Iraqi conflict.

Commanders speaking Sept. 4 at the Marine Corps Association and U.S. Naval Institute's 2003 Forum said their forces fighting in Iraq earlier this year were able to resolve command, control and intelligence issues quickly, but they shouldn't have had to deal with them on the battlefield in the first place.

"Smart soldiers and Marines...worked it out," said Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee. But "there were times when we couldn't communicate."

"We had voice, but no data," he said. "We should not be working these problems out just a few months before we cross that line of departure."

Hagee said more joint training in the future would highlight interoperability problems long before they would present themselves on a battlefield. In the meantime, network-centric projects are still not ready for battle, said Marine Maj. Gen. James Nattis, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division.

"Why is there no way to set up a database that we can all link into and all be simultaneously updated at once?" Nettis said. "It continually frustrates me. Fire, maneuver, friendly and enemy [status] — there are too many systems and none talk to each other."

Nettis said interoperability issues with coalition and allied forces in the desert presented an initial problem, but work between he and 3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Buford Blount was very well coordinated.

"I always knew what the 3rd Infantry Division was doing on my flank and the 3rd Infantry always knew what we were doing," he said. "But that is because Gen. Blount and I had a common picture in front of us. It was as much about visualization as a commander."

A problem that continues to plague forces in battle is friendly fire. Although far fewer troops died at the hands of allies during Operation Iraqi Freedom, any blue-on-blue deaths are unacceptable, said Vice Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of naval forces in Central Command and commander of the Navy's 5th Fleet.

"Blue on blue...there's too much of it," he said. "We enjoyed, or suffered, a lower percentage, but we're still getting too many hurt or killed at our own hands."

Keating said command and control was initially an issue with coalition Naval forces, but problems were quickly worked out. "There wasn't a single event where we had to shift an assignment from a coalition [ship] because of our inability to communicate," he said.

At the height of operations, Central Command's area of responsibility had 180 ships, of which 65 were with the coalition, Keating said. However, even when DOD's secure Secret Internet Protocol Router Network was deployed on coalition ships, it required a U.S. sailor to operate it because the Navy could not receive permission to release the technology to allied and coalition partners.

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