Defense CIO decries bandwidth expense

BOSTON — Technical constraints, largely in the area of bandwidth, are preventing network centricity — the idea that everyone on a battlefield has situational awareness and connects to a network — from becoming a reality, the military's chief information officer said today.

"Bandwidth is still expensive," said John Stenbit, the Defense Department's CIO, speaking in Boston at the Military Communications 2003 conference. "We send all of the data out at once. Every picture goes out from [the National Imagery and Mapping Agency] once; all of the [intelligence] stuff goes out from [the National Security Agency] once."

Defense bandwidth constraints have been decried since the first Gulf War. While the situation improved dramatically during recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, some battlefield commanders returning from those theaters still bemoan their outcast state.

"It's a bandwidth-expensive, process- and storage-cheap system," Stenbit said. "We only send it once — you've got to store it. If you don't store it, or you miss it, or your link was down, you're never going to get that data again because NIMA is never going to send that picture out over that broadcast again."

The business process that determines what information goes to the warfighter first is still a cause of concern for Stenbit. The idea that analysts need to see information and process it before the data gets into the hands of the warfighter is anathema to his idea of "power to the edge" — getting raw information to the front lines before it is processed.

"If you happen to be in Afghanistan, and NIMA's going to do all of the Iraq photos first, it is (only) of theoretical interest to you if you get a processed picture tomorrow of the place you're supposed to go this afternoon," he said.

Stenbit said cutting the time it takes to get information to warfighters is vital. To that end, DOD is invoking what he called the OHIO principle — only handle information once.

"Time is what we're going to go work on, and we're going to get faster," he said. "It requires bandwidth to be cheap. More than one person will want a picture at the same time."

The most important programs under his purview, Stenbit said, include:

-- Global Information Grid — Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE).

-- Transformational Communications Satellite Program.

-- Wideband Network Waveform of the Joint Tactical Radio System.

-- Network Centric Enterprise Services.

-- End-to-end information assurance.

"Those five programs are underway," Stenbit said. "Those programs will touch about 5 percent of the Defense Department, but they'll touch 100 percent of the people that shoot people and they'll touch 100 percent of the people that find targets."

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