GAO: Net-centric war needs better integration

GAO Report: "Military operations: Recent Campaigns Benefited from Improved Communications and Technology, but Barriers to Continued Progress Remain"

The Defense Department's communications and network-centric technologies need integration work and upgrades to perform at expected levels, General Accounting Office officials say.

Sensors and communications equipment have enhanced the military's ability to share a broad view of the battlefield and communicate quickly with all force elements. But certain barriers are blocking the progress of net-centric warfare. By looking at bombing campaigns in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, Congressional auditors determined the impact of network improvements on operational effectiveness, precision weapons and identification of barriers to progress.

"Improvements in force networks and in the use of precision weapons are clearly primary reasons for the overwhelming combat power demonstrated in recent operations," the report states. "However, the full extent to which operations have been speeded up or otherwise affected is unclear because DOD does not have detailed measures of these effects."

GAO found a lack of standardized, interoperable systems and equipment; difficulties in obtaining timely, high-quality analyses of bombing damage; the absence of a unified battlefield information system; and a lack of high-quality, realistic training to help personnel understand and adapt to the increased flow of information.

Battle damage assessments give combatant commands an idea of their campaigns' success. In previous conflicts, the military would launch several sorties to destroy one target. But with precision-guided munitions, a single plane can fly one sortie and destroy multiple targets.

But according to GAO, DOD officials' method for assessing battle damage isn't integrated with other systems and gives an incomplete picture of a mission's overall effectiveness.

"The lack of standardized, interoperable systems and equipment during joint operations was one of the most frequently reported problems we found during our review," the report stated. "According to DOD officials and reports, this longstanding problem undermines many operating systems at DOD, including systems used to provide shared situation awareness of the battlefield, battle management command and control, and damage assessments of the effects of bombing operations."

According to the report, Joint Forces and Special Operations commands had different Blue Force Tracking systems that weren't compatible in Iraq. The result was an ad hoc network designed on the fly to allow different commands to determine the location of one another.

A similar issue arose in Afghanistan when troops reported battle damage. Because no standard format existed, officials at Central Command received battle damage mission reports using at least 23 different formats during joint operations in Afghanistan.

DOD officials are already working on several technologies to remedy these and similar problems, including the Global Information Grid, which will link all U.S. and allied troops worldwide.

"The Joint Staff, in coordination with Joint Forces Command, is addressing these issues in the Joint Network Fires Capability roadmap, the Joint Fires Initiative, Joint Close Air Support, and Joint Targeting School," DOD's response stated.

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