DOD's tunnel vision

The Pentagon plans to make information technology as much a part of warfare and peacekeeping operations as bullets are.

The Pentagon plans to make information technology as much a part of warfare

and peacekeeping operations as bullets are. But it has yet to reconcile

its IT plans with the other unavoidable reality of present and future warfare:

coalition forces.

The Pentagon's idea of future warfare, as outlined in its recently released

Joint Vision 2020 plan, has IT supporting every component of a military

action, from organization to training to equipping to supplying to fighting.

For years, top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary William Cohen,

have acknowledged that the U.S. military must be prepared to fight alongside

allies to defeat a common enemy. But the Pentagon has done little to make

the vision a reality.

And not much is being done to correct it. The problem of U.S. military

information systems being able to seamlessly talk to allied information

systems has been a problem since the Gulf War in 1990. Nine years later,

in October 1999, officials with the Government Electronics and Information

Technology Association reported that, based on the bombing campaign of Yugoslavia

six months before, command, control, communications, computers and intelligence

interoperability "is currently the weakest link in coalition warfare." The

association also called the lack of interoperability "a wake-up call" for

the Defense Department.

To be sure, the task of linking the 19 NATO countries is a daunting

one, to say the least. The United States also has a dozen or more other

nations with which it would need to negotiate standards and interoperability

guidelines. No small task.

But the future, as the Pentagon has pointed out, is not the United States

vs. the Soviet Union in a grand showdown; it's a tightly knit group of nations

working together to subdue rogue nations and enforce peace accords. That

would mean an unprecedented effort to connect allied nations.

Unless the United States wants to "go it alone," as Joint Vision 2020

notes — typically unpopular with the public — the Pentagon needs to make

interoperability a top priority and convince Congress to fund it.

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