Blog: Lt. Gen. Kearney Explains His Communications Frustrations

March 4, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney III, USA, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, shared frustrations he has with communications during a speech at TechNet Tampa, and told industry members how they can help. His first frustration is the lack of data exposure capabilities, which he illustrated by explaining the problems inherent in military medical records. The U.S. Defense Department and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) use two different systems, making it impossible for the VA to access the active duty records of service members without someone bringing information in on a desk or on paper.

Gen. Kearney's second frustration is the inability for leaders to command and control from anywhere. Technology prevents decision makers from accessing the communications they need at any place, anytime. The third item on the general's list is the absence of a Global Sensor Network. In that, the general envisions a single network with redundant communications and a single workstation. This network will help make information on the ground more transparent  to operators.

The final two frustrations the general voiced are the need for permanent infrastructure in the U.S. Central Command area of operation and the impact of Web 2.0 on the military. The military should take better advantage of new media offerings, but security is still an obstacle. Gen. Kearney appealed to industry for assistance. "We're on the edge of change, but you have to help us," he said.  

Gen. Kearney said that industry partners can play an important role in improving military communications through their technical developments and through sharing knowledge they already possess with the military.

Share Your Thoughts:

I hope we can develop Cloud Command & Control, but we're not even there yet with secure Cloud Computing.

I just heard that Vivek Kundra, recently appointed Federal CIO, is a big fan of cloud computing. So maybe he'll be the driver we need to develop secure cloud computing for the federal government. Will be interesting to see...

The truly remarkable aspect of LTG Kearney's views regarding the impact of Web 2.0 on the military is that nearly every aspect or tool of Web 2.0 is disabled or blocked on both SIPR and NIPR networks in his headquarters, USSOCOM. Users who might want to listen to ADM Stavridis' .mp3 comments on AFCEA will find a 'black hole'. Professional blogs are generally blocked as 'Entertainment' or 'Personals and Social Networking'. When I recommended to our J6 rep that we should enable and use RSS to publish some of our products, I then had to explain what it was and how it functioned. That was over a year ago. Those products are still be e-mailed as attachments.

The increase in cyber security incidents in both DoD and USG organizations will continue to dominate the security culture of risk aversion that automatically blocks access to internet capabilities and partnerships as the safest way. While technology can help, hackers are breaking countermeasures faster than they are created. We need to focus on high quality continuous cyber training as the first line of cyber defense. An educated user who understands possible vulnerabilities is more effective than a strong technical solution that can be broken but leaves users with the perception that they are protected.

If SIPR is that vulnerable, we're deep in a pot of fermented cole slaw.

As someone who has come to regard "older than dirt' as a compliment, I am more inclined to assign systemic reluctance and individual ignorance to John Nagl's hypothesis of organizational failure to learn. In other words, we have taken the attitude that if we ignore and refuse to understand this, it will go bother someone else. Unfortunately, the insurgent will fill our void because he sees this as a another channel where he is the only voice. That would confirm the quote attributed to a former CENTCOM commnader, "The enemy is vastly more networked than we are."

Can I get a beer with that kimchee?

The weakness of a cloud is security of the weakest link. If in a war with a sophisticated opponent, an information centric system needs to be robust against infiltration such that the weakest link does not provide an open access pathway to do malicious things like mis-inform, mis-locate, or re-target. Imagine the job of the commander who must rely on this information on the battlefield, if he must always second guess if his data has not been tampered with. Imagine the firepower (ours) the opponent can harness, if he can mis-inform about where the enemy is relative to friendly forces. That had been the case, where Afghan tribes did that by word of mouth, having us target an otherwise neutral tribal leader's house, making his tribe our enemy. With the sophistication of China in hacking capabilities, having a cloud-based system in which security issues have not been solved is a dangerous thing to rely on, God forbid, should we get into a confrontation, directly or by proxy.

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