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Military Needs to Break Communication Barriers

March 4, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

The C4 Panel Session, "Breaking Down Barriers: Enabling a True Enterprise Network," addressed the ongoing efforts and need within the military to break down barriers in information sharing. Brig. Gen. Mark Bowman, USA, J6, U.S Central Command (CENTCOM), moderated the panel, stressing the need for greater information passing ability. "The people who put up barriers should be ashamed of themselves," he said. To illustrate his point of the critical nature of bandwidth and communication he related a story in which four unmanned aerial vehicles were dedicated to tracking a high-value target. Communication was lost for only a few seconds and the target disappeared for nine months.

The general continued, stating that CENTCOM's area of operation (AOR) needs more bandwidth and that other combatant commands have more bandwidth to use, even though CENTCOM is handling two wars in its AOR. Also critical is spectrum management. "[Spectrum management] is the toughest job we have out there ... It's the underpinning of making everything else work," Gen. Bowman stated.

Panelist Lt. Col. Samuel Anderson, USA, battalion commander, 112th Signal Battalion, added to the conversation by offering a special operations forces (SOF) viewpoint. He spoke to dispel the myth that SOF do not need communications with general purpose troops. Instead, he said that in many cases, "If we can't talk to general purpose forces, we can't operate."

Col. Anderson also spoke about hassles with network permissions and SOF plans to allow access based on skill sets. Another idea he talked about was redesigning portals. He related an incident where a commander said he wanted his portal to resemble NFL.com. The commander uses that Web site to manage his fantasy football team and information on the statistics, strengths, weaknesses and more of his players are easily accessible and user intuitive. The same ideas could apply to managing troops and eliminating the enemy. Col. Anderson's final take away for the audience was the need for more analysis on how to move intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data from the lowest level back into the network.

Group Captain Ian Vellely, RAF, deputy director, CENTCOM J2, provided the panel with a coalition partner perspective and said that great progress had been made in breaking down barriers. He also mentioned that many remaining barriers are being addressed, though sometimes in baby steps. However, enough baby steps can take partners where they need to be. Group Captain Vellely spoke about the good and bad involved in information sharing, but he especially emphasized the need for partners to move forward with their eyes open. He stressed the need for decision makers to analyze potential risks as well as analyze and assess unintended consequences.

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