Cartwright: Warfighters need to share information regardless of rank

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In Information Age military operations, quick decisions require instant collaboration among warfighters, regardless of rank and without censorship, said Gen. James Cartwright, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom), at the Army’s LandWarNet Conference.

“The military has a wonderful axiom called the chain of command…but the chain of information is not the chain of command,” Cartwright told military and industry representatives attending the conference.

“The speed of decision is absolutely critical,” he said. “It is our asymmetric advantage. But it won't be if I have to go up and down the chain of command to get to an actionable decision.”

Stratcom has taken the lead on collaborative decision-making by creating SKI-web. Part of Stratcom’s classified network, SKI-web functions as a never-ending virtual operations and intelligence meeting. Based on commercial software, it combines aspects of instant messaging services, chat rooms and blogs.

SKI-web enables warfighters of all ranks and responsibilities to share ideas, which encourages greater collaboration. But since its inception, officers have sought to stifle the system by controlling what their subordinates post, Cartwright said.

Cartwright said officers should not demand to approve information before warfighters share it. The country’s enemies make quick decisions by using instant communications, and the military must keep pace.

“When al Qaeda can outmaneuver you using Yahoo, we’ve got something wrong here,” Cartwright said.

Information technology acquisition systems must also change to fight the war on terrorism, he added. The defense industry still thinks in terms of a five- to 10-year acquisition cycle, but the turnover for IT is no more than 18 months.

“We’re trying to jam this stuff into an acquisition system that thinks in terms of an industrial construct,” he said. “It just plain isn’t working.”

To improve real-time collaboration, the military needs to synchronize all data, Cartwright said. Data should be accessible to any authorized person rather than tied to specific applications.

Cartwright said the military can’t afford to be fighting turf battles when the United States is at war. “Access to that data…is absolutely critical to saving lives," he said.

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