Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Verbeck, USAF

September 2005
By Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Verbeck, USAF, Director of Command, Control, Communications and Warfighting Integration, U.S. European Command

Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated, “We face an enemy that is dispersed throughout the world. It does not operate the same way as a traditional enemy—it has no territory to defend and no permanent bases to safeguard. Our enemy is constantly adapting, and so must we.” The U.S. European Command’s (EUCOM’s) Command, Control, Communications and Warfighting Integration Directorate is doing just that—looking for ways to transform operational support and meet the challenges of fighting the global war on terror in the EUCOM area of responsibility (AOR). Although transformation encompasses much more than new systems, the command expects that promising technologies will play an important role in accelerating achievement of strategic theater transformation goals.

EUCOM’s mission includes maintaining ready forces to conduct the full range of operations; enhancing trans-Atlantic security through support of NATO; promoting regional stability; conducting counterterrorism efforts; and advancing U.S. interests in its AOR. EUCOM is very aware that access to nearby countries is a critical component of each mission area. In this context, access ranges from operating out of forward sites and cooperative security locations to utilizing strategic resources throughout the region, including information systems. In the global war on terror, access includes being able to influence regional security through close cooperation with host and partner nations. This presents a significant systems interoperability challenge both in Eastern Europe, where EUCOM increasingly works directly with Partnership for Peace nations, and in Africa, where collaboration with nations covers a range of technical and operational abilities. Interoperability is vital because information sharing is central to building strong regional security organizations and developing reliable associations with partner nations.

Emerging technologies that foster multinational information sharing are one group of several critical enabling capabilities. Traditionally, EUCOM carried out automated information sharing only within the NATO framework through closed, stovepiped systems. Today’s environment demands that EUCOM share information with 91 nations, other U.S. government agencies, and nongovernmental and partner nation organizations. Consequently, information protection must increasingly shift to protect data objects, allowing a smooth transition across various international network arrangements while maintaining the correct operational disclosure attributes.

EUCOM’s need to cooperate at some level with every nation in its AOR presents additional challenges in language translation, communications infrastructure, knowledge management and policy. Current translation devices are extremely useful but often limited to communications that are directive in nature. U.S. forces can convey simple actions; however, two-way communications with local nationals are much more difficult and often require a degree of nuance current automated translation systems do not support. EUCOM would benefit significantly from translation capabilities embedded across the spectrum of communications from computer applications to radios to cell phones. These devices must be intuitive to operate, must accommodate the most common local dialects, must provide fluid two-way collaboration and must work in an infrastructure-constrained environment.

Facilitating EUCOM’s ability to access and ultimately to cooperate effectively with regional countries requires information and collaboration management. Emerging smart-agent technologies must help all nations, especially those with limited information technology experience, to locate, retrieve and process relevant information. Coalition networks must support real-time collaboration to ensure effective dialogue between decision makers and must provide situational awareness of current actions and outcomes. Technology should help identify and categorize information to ensure only those with proper credentials can access and manipulate information. Multinational networks must account for policies limiting release of certain technologies, especially in cryptography, for nations that are not approved for Type 1 encryption yet still require a degree of assured communications.

Multinational information sharing encompasses not just computer networks but also common operating pictures, tactical datalinks and radio communications on land, in the air and at sea. Integrated and interoperable hardware represents only part of the total information-sharing requirement. Equally important are the knowledge management and collaboration processes that ensure that information sharing leads to common understanding. Today’s security environment demands that the combatant commander have the full range of capabilities to direct coalition forces across the spectrum of conflict, including generation of desired effects in benign areas before environments conducive to terrorist development metastasize.

Finally, while access to partner nations is essential, EUCOM still needs the joint community, services, agencies and other branches of the U.S. government to remove many of the technical barriers that inhibit the efficient flow of information. A single integrated architecture would significantly enhance the command’s effectiveness as it seeks to align actions and effects among components, supporting combatant commands and agencies.

Emerging technologies can significantly accelerate attainment of the required environment to align global partner contributions to the war on terror.