There’s been some discussion that today’s soldiers need to be both a warrior and a computer geek to handle the challenges of modern conflicts. This transition could possibly be a difficult one for old school Army personnel and may require significant updating of their operational vocabulary.
Why is the job of chief information officer, especially in the public sector, so difficult? Is it ill-defined, misunderstood, threatening or powerless? Are qualified people assigned, and are salary and compensation levels adequate? These are good questions that represent problems expressed by many chief information officers.
With the eighth year of the Global War on Terrorism nearing, military leaders are taking one big collective deep breath and adjusting their thoughts about jointness, leadership and even acquisition. Fueled by more information about the enemy, they are speaking out about the need for balance—between the human element and technology, between fighting the wars today and preparing for future conflicts. They also are expressing what might be called radical ideas about how the armed forces move forward in the future, replacing the adjective asymmetric with irregular or hybrid when describing wars with today’s adversary.
As the armed forces move into the brave new world of information sharing, one of their biggest challenges will be identity assurance—proving that the parties to a virtual transaction are who they say they are, or simply that the person trying to enter a secure facility does in fact have a right to be there. Many current technologies already handle this task, including public key technology and biometrics, but many problems exist as well, such as duplication of effort within the federal government, lack of funding and even understanding what identity is.
If you have not been to Europe lately, you need to reflect on how the continent has changed dramatically in recent years. Little has remained constant. The European Union has grown in scope and role and, with it, the euro has emerged as a major international currency. NATO has grown in size and mission, now embracing 26 nations.
The U.S. armed forces’ yearly demonstration to test and assess interoperability technologies took place in June as military services and government agencies from various countries gathered at worldwide locations to evaluate new communications capabilities. This year’s event had several new features and components, including a combatant command sponsor that filled the role for the third consecutive time, increased foreign country and direct academic participation, a focus on Afghan military operations, and a connection with other military interoperability and certification exercises. Now, personnel involved with the effort are looking to take past successes and combine them with fresh perspectives and new ideas as they prepare for the future.
As aerospace operations increasingly beckon, the U.S. Air Force is looking across the Atlantic as well as skyward. It has created a new liaison office designed to coordinate and boost space cooperation with Europe. This comes as both civil government and military entities across the continent are deploying new space-based systems that can complement or enhance U.S. capabilities.
Bionics made Col. Steve Austin better, stronger and faster as the lead 1970s television character in The Six Million Dollar Man so he could defeat fictional bad guys, but it will be biometrics that make the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s capabilities bigger, better and faster to fight real adversaries. And, while the fictional Office of Scientific Intelligence spent $6 million on its singular secret bio-weapon, the bureau will spend $1 billion during the next 10 years to enhance identification systems that will benefit the entire United States. During that time, fingerprint database capacity will be doubled, and emerging identification techniques such as iris and facial recognition will be adopted after verifying their reliability and worth.
The U.S. Defense Department is creating a biometrics science and technology plan to help the services and other component organizations spend their money in ways that will fill warfighter capability gaps. The document will inform stakeholders of current resources and needs in the defense biometrics community, with the goal of producing solutions through both standard and unconventional means. The plan is part of a larger effort to formalize biometrics strategies and efforts within the military community.
As U.S. troops continue to engage in hard-power battles to defeat dangerous enemies around the world, another type of international effort is moving forward a little closer to home. The U.S. Southern Command possesses very little in terms of military assets, yet the organization is making inroads and a big difference in its region of responsibility through partnerships, humanitarian assistance and a whole-of-government approach. The command has an evolving organizational structure with unique personnel in one-of-a-kind roles, including the man leading what used to be the separate directorships of Intelligence and Operations.
British troops operating in Afghanistan and Iraq are using privately owned and maintained unmanned aircraft for battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The effort effectively leases the aircraft to the military while the private firm covers maintenance and operational costs.
European armies are networking their infantry. Driven by the need for network-centric forces capable of operating in multinational environments, the continent’s ground forces are pushing their information systems down to the individual soldier. But while these modernization programs are underway, nations and companies are taking different approaches to developing and marketing this new equipment.
A multifunction command and control system is providing the Spanish army with increased operational flexibility. The software application contains several discrete applications that form a network-centric information sharing battlefield network. Parts of the system are already in service, with new tools and components readying for deployment.
The French army is in the first stages of a far-reaching transformation program to digitize its ground forces. The goal of the effort is to connect all echelons of the service into a single network, with emphasis on forces at the battalion level and below. Additional developments will include streamlined acquisition and logistics, a new family of lightweight, fuel-efficient combat vehicles and robotic reconnaissance and surveillance systems.
NATO has centralized its computer support services to better provide warfighters with battlefield data and to effectively manage and protect alliance networks. By combining management, maintenance and network defense capabilities in a single command, NATO seeks to benefit from increased efficiencies and reduced manpower requirements.
NATO is transforming itself as it approaches its 60th birthday. Change is nothing unusual for the alliance, which has recently accepted a number of new nations into its ranks. But as the scope and nature of its military commitments change from simple defense to peacekeeping, the various national armies operating under NATO’s banner must be able to function together harmoniously in the field. But while harmony is vital in the era of network-centric warfare, achieving it remains a challenge.
The armed forces of the Czech Republic are wrestling with interoperability issues as they strive to modernize in place a military largely built around legacy systems. The 60-year-old Atlantic alliance to which the Czech Republic belongs still has not achieved complete interoperability, so the former Warsaw Pact member is trying to achieve compatibility with an organization that has not yet reached its own interoperability goals.