Cartwright: Military must use IT to be more adaptable

The U.S. military will face persistent conflicts with constantly evolving enemies for the foreseeable future, and the best way to engage them is to be better at adapting to new conditions, said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Information technology tools and systems can help deliver that adaptability, but the military must change a culture that keeps that technology from getting into the hands of warfighters quickly, he said today at the Naval IT Day conference sponsored by AFCEA International’s Northern Virginia Chapter.

“For the average soldier, sailor, airman and Marine who gets up in the morning in Iraq or Afghanistan, the one thing they can be absolutely sure of is that when they climb into their Humvee or [other vehicle] and go across the line of departure, things are going to be different than they were yesterday,” Cartwright said.

Troops do not know if they will face improvised explosive devices that are pressure- or radio-triggered, or if they will face an ambush or sniper fire, he said.

“The one thing for sure, if the enemy is any good at all, they will outguess us,” Cartwright said.

Technology exists to help warfighters adapt to those ever-changing conditions, but the Defense Department has yet to develop a process to deliver those capabilities quickly, he said.

The military applies the industrial processes used to build aircraft and aircraft carriers to IT systems, which often makes IT systems irrelevant before they are finished being developed, much less deployed, he said.

The current approach creates applications that push information to a central location for study and then sends the analysis to warfighters. That system does not work, Cartwright said.

“There is no rule against doing it differently. We just don’t want to because it would disturb the power setups,” he said. “People die over these decisions, and to me, we have to get at this issue.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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