Joint combat collaboration under the gun

The impending action in the Middle East could test the services' integration principles

American fighting forces need to better integrate their technologies to operate as one joint force on the battlefield, but that will require a massive shift in philosophy to accomplish, a panel of senior officers said this week.

Officers from the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard addressed the problem at the AFCEA International Inc. West 2003 conference in San Diego Jan. 16. They said the impending action in the Middle East could provide a unique scenario in which the services' integration principles can be tested.

The commitment of each military service to its own technology presents a challenge. In past conflicts, the services typically operated independent of one another. But the concept of a joint force will require much more collaboration than has occurred in the past.

"Combat operations are now inherently joint in their structure, but they have not been necessarily well operated," said Col. Keith Walker, chief of strategic planning, concepts and doctrine for the Army Department. "By 2015 to 2020, technology will give the ability to see, understand and act before an adversary can strike. We need to build a force around a system that is designed not to survive a first strike, but to avoid being hit in the first place."

Using a historical perspective for future-looking operations previously has been hit-or-miss, according to Rear Adm. Douglas Crowder, director of the Navy Operations Group on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. That technique might prove less useful in the future, given the future of network-centric warfare and joint operations.

"We have learned a few lessons from the past," he said. "Lesson one is that you can't allow the U.S. military the time to muster its forces. If you do, we'll kick your butt. The second is you can no longer take on the [United States] force-for-force. We loved 'Desert Storm I' and there is a good possibility we're going to love 'Desert Storm II.' "

Crowder speculated that the future Navy, beyond the impending conflict, will rely much more on technology, unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles, and long-range missiles to put fewer troops in harm's way.

Rear Adm. Jim Olson of the Coast Guard said a distinction needs to be drawn between joint operations and one combined fighting force that resolves all of the country's problems.

"We need to work closely together and be dependent and reliant on each other," he said. "But we still need to make sure that each service brings to the fray a list of core competencies that are central to their service."

Each panel member lamented about the closed-door mentality they face when dealing with members of the intelligence community, who they say are still far too reluctant to share data.

Air Force Col. Tom Hyde said that gathering intelligence for intelligence's sake is a pointless task.

"We need to break down the barriers between the intelligence and the military and get everyone on one plot," he said. "We can go to meetings where we present a piece of information and some intell guy says, 'Oh yeah, we knew that.' It's on the borderline of criminal sometimes."

In the end, each panel member agreed it comes down to interoperability of technology and organizations. And that, they agreed, is a new way of doing things and a new challenge for the military.

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