Franks: Net-centric tech is 'heaven'

The battlefield commander who led American and allied forces into Baghdad believes the most important lesson from that operation is that networked forces rule the battlefield.

The joint force that fought in Afghanistan came together more out of need than foresight, and lessons learned from that conflict were immediately implemented into the armed forces' ramp-up to invading Iraq.

"We need to focus more on reliant operations — that's a step beyond joint," said retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who was until recently the commander of Central Command, including all allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Joint operations have been deconflicted operations where you core and parse the battlespace."

In reliant operations, services work side-by side, Frank said. Reaching that point will require the services to work even more closely, recognize that each of them has something to bring to the fight and accept that excess baggage can better be handled by a sister service, he said.

"No, U.S. Army, you cannot bring the partridge and the tree," Franks said. "You will rely on fires that are brought by a service that [operates] with greater depth and more efficiency."

"Left to our own proclivities, the Army will get in its place, the Air Force will get in its place, the Navy will do the same thing and Special operations will do the same thing," he added.

Franks, speaking at the IDGA Network Centric Warfare conference, said today that real-time communications and a common operating picture gave battlefield commanders for the first time information about the precise location and status of their troops.

He recounted one instance that he was watching a digitized map of Baghdad to see blue icons representing U.S. forces moving on Baghdad International Airport, while simultaneously watching on a different screen a news feed of an embedded reporter traveling with the forward units gave live updates.

"I've just died and gone to heaven," Franks said. "I've seen the first bit of network-centric work that has never been experienced by the highest level of operational command."

Franks said the big challenge now for network-centric warfare is speed — the civilian leadership is convinced it works, the military leadership has seen it in action and wants more, and industry is working to solve the problem.

"The world changed" on September 11, 2001, he said. "Did the military establish the change necessary to reflect that?"

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