Transforming Through Jointness

June 2007
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Technology is transforming the way U.S. Air Force operations centers operate by enabling almost total situational awareness.
Joint Staff J-6 describes road ahead—from acquisition to MySpace.

The transformation fever that is igniting innovation throughout the services is wicking its way up to the joint military leadership. Stoking the fires is the innovative Joint Net-Centric Operations Campaign Plan that calls for new ways of connecting the warfighter, leveraging enterprise services, securing the network, accelerating information sharing, synchronizing network capability delivery and managing the enterprise. Firing up these bold initiatives will require changing acquisition processes, fostering not only interoperability but also interdependence and tapping the talents of an Internet generation consumed with the possibilities of the next new capability.

Returning to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon via stints in Iraq and Colorado, Vice Adm. Nancy E. Brown, USN, director for command, control, communications and computer (C4) systems (J-6), the Joint Staff, Washington, D.C., is picking up the transformation banner right where the former J-6, Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC, placed it, handling technology as a piece of the transformation puzzle, not the whole picture. In fact, she credits Gen. Shea with rallying the troops and reiterating the battle cry that echoes throughout military and commercial sectors alike: Transformation is not about just the technology. “We have to address all the other pieces that have to flow in here. How are we going to make this technology work for us? In the campaign plan, we try to address all of the things that need to be put in place so that we’re ready to use the technology that’s going to be delivered—hopefully—in the 2012 to 2015 time frame,” Adm. Brown says.

The plan the admiral is talking about is her update to the first Joint C4 Systems Campaign Plan, which Gen. Shea crafted and released in September 2004. The Joint Net-Centric Operations Campaign Plan, published last October, incorporates ideas from the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) as well as guidance from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, USMC.

The campaign plan enumerates six goals and the approximately 160 action items that move the forces toward accomplishing those goals. For example, one aim is to accelerate information sharing; among the four action items to achieve that goal is establishing a U.S. Defense Department and interagency information-sharing environment that includes common standards, architecture and culture.

“I tell the folks that if you’re working on something and it’s not one of the goals or doesn’t support one of the goals in the campaign plan, you’re wasting our time. Don’t work on it. This is how we have to prioritize our work. There’s too much out there that we could focus on, and we’ve got to figure out where we can make our efforts pay,” the admiral states.

Although the joint community has just begun to head down the transformation thoroughfare with the help of this updated road map, changes already have occurred in several areas. For example, Adm. Brown points to the increased use of technology to boost collaboration and information sharing. Even though innovative technologies have created new avenues for both of these activities, the admiral admits other roadblocks have popped up. “We can’t seem to get the policies, the education and training, and the awareness that have to go along with the technology to maximize the sharing. We still overclassify, and we’re reluctant to take the initiative sometimes to say, ‘I’m going to share this,’ instead of, ‘I need permission to share this.’ Until we get the folks trained and increase the awareness, it’s not going to be as effortless as it should be,” she states.

Interoperability continues to be a challenge from the technical perspective, but Adm. Brown reveals that Gen. Pace takes the communications interoperability discussion to the next level—the joint level—by using the word “interdependence” instead. Interoperability, she says, means that the services still are operating separately; interdependency denotes true joint warfighting where U.S. Army and Marine Corps units mesh and operate together, for instance.

Even though the military struggles to define the term “joint,” it is headed in the right direction to reach interdependence, Adm. Brown declares. In this area, the QDR is truly visionary, particularly in its guidance on topics such as achieving joint basing, and the admiral recognizes the important role she, her team and technology will play in realizing this concept. One of her priorities is to examine the C4 infrastructure requirements of establishing a joint base.

With years of experience, determining these requirements should be no more than an afternoon’s work for the admiral, but she admits that the existing technical structure of the military makes the project quite a bit trickier. The e-mail system is one example. “Active Directory was supposed to be a panacea. Well, the way we’ve implemented it, it’s no different than what we’ve ever had before. We implemented Active Directory just like we’ve done everything else: We’ve done it by service, and there’s no interdependence at all; in fact, there’s little interoperability if you look at it. For example, when I was at Peterson [Air Force Base, Colorado] working at a joint activity, the only addresses I could find were Air Force addresses because I was on the Air Force Global [system],” she relates.

One way to resolve this problem could be a global directory, Adm. Brown shares. The naming convention would not use “army,” “navy” or “air force” and may include “DOD” or may not be even that specific, she explains. Every service also would use the same format, for example, firstname.lastname, and the Active Directory capability would be used to build a global network rather than a service-centric network.

The admiral believes that joint leadership must be stepped up a notch to move the individual services further toward jointness. “The vision is that the network is global and the services have nodes—their operational nodes—so that wherever they are, they plug in. From the policy and guidance level, the Joint Staff hasn’t been as specific as it needs to be in looking at how the services are designing their pieces. We’ve been consumed with the bigger piece. Now, it’s time to start bringing the services in and saying, ‘This is what’s going to be delivered; you show me how you’re connecting.’ When I look at some of the service charts, they’re using the old-think with the new stuff and they’re not getting the advantage that the new technology should give them,” the admiral observes.

Synchronization needs to occur in the acquisition arena as well, she adds. “That’s one of the areas that we’re focused on as we review the budgets. We are trying to make sure that we’re getting capabilities delivered in the same time frame. When we launch a satellite, the ground terminal has to be there because the cost of launching that satellite and then not being able to use its capability is something we can’t afford,” she states.

Something else the military cannot afford is to get mired in doctrinal delays, she adds. “Doctrine is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be something that stops you from doing good things. And sometimes it takes so long to get something into doctrine, the technology’s changed five times before you can get some capability in. You have to balance it. We need doctrine, and we need the right policies, but they can’t hold us back,” Adm. Brown states.

“My biggest frustration is how long it takes me to do anything. When CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] comes in and says, ‘We have a problem, we need help with this,’ and you know it’s the right thing to do, and the services shake their head, ‘Yes, it’s the right thing to do, but we don’t have the money to do it’”—she pauses to find the right words but settles on—“it just takes so long to get it done.”

Adm. Brown reveals that her experiences in Iraq and at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, have taught her a great deal that will alleviate these frustrations. For example, she discovered that power emerges when combatant command and service C4 leaders join forces and take a common position on issues.

In joint operations, naval command and control consoles provide information that is shared by all of the services.
The admiral also believes industry can help speed up processes by helping military C4 personnel in the joint community understand how to write requirement documents that do not stifle innovation yet describe capabilities that are reasonably achievable. As an extreme yet not too offbeat example, Adm. Brown creates a description of a radio. “I want a radio to be able to do voice, video and data. I want it to have an eight-hour battery life. If I drop it and a tank runs over it, it will not crush. If I drop it in the ocean, it will not get damaged. And, it can use any waveform and weighs no more than 3 ounces,” she relates. “Now, why am I surprised that I spent all this money and I can’t get this? Somebody must have told me that was achievable. Some company somewhere said, ‘Sure, we can do that.’ So don’t tell me you can do it unless you really think you can because I’m going to ask for it,” she states.

Industry can improve the acquisition process in other ways, the admiral maintains. A project conducted by Brig. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence, USA, J-6, U.S. Central Command, illustrates the need for coordination within companies. She inventoried the command’s systems and found 4,000 of them for command and control alone. Furthermore, although many of the systems had different names, some provided the same capability and were made by the same company but sold to a different person. The admiral says that now when she talks to industry groups, she emphasizes that this is one area where the military needs their help. “We need enterprise solutions, and if we buy it once, please don’t try to sell it to us again,” she states.

But Adm. Brown does not shirk the military’s responsibility in this scenario. She proposes that the U.S. Defense Department needs a separate acquisition process for information technology capabilities because they change so often. “It’s not the same as buying a ship. It just isn’t. And to impose the same structure, process and regulations just makes it prohibitive for us to be able to deliver capability rapidly. It’s all of the process—from the testing on up to purchase—and how rigid we’ve made it; it just doesn’t fit information technology,” she says.

Trust within the services and the other military organizations could ease this burden. For example, when the Defense Information Systems Agency certifies a piece of software so it can be put on a network, the services should not have to then recertify it before putting it on their individual networks. This practice is an example of using old-think with new technologies, the admiral notes.

But devising ways to solve old problems is not the admiral’s only goal for her tenure as the J-6. She also is planning for future and emerging technologies and admits that she needs help from a nontraditional source to achieve this goal. “One of the things that I’m looking at is trying to hire someone in J-6—a young person—who’s going to spend his or her time out on the Web helping us old fogies understand what’s going on out there. There are so many things out there—MySpace, for example. I need to understand them, and I need somebody that’s focused on that all the time to try to keep us current,” she states.

And cyberspace is one battleground where the military cannot afford a lag in awareness, the admiral emphasizes. “We’re starting to focus on cyberspace as a domain and a domain that’s equal to the land, sea and air domains. We need to understand and know how to operate there. What skill set is needed? What kind of training? How can we be competitive there? We are fighting a war in the information domain, and the enemy is outmaneuvering us,” the admiral notes.

Adm. Brown stresses that the military understands that every new technology it embraces comes with risks, and the commercial sector must help commands and services understand and mitigate those risks. “Industry deals with a lot of different customers. It has best practices. Companies know what’s worked for other people. We need to learn from that,” she says.

Web Resources
Joint Chiefs of Staff:
J-6, Joint Staff:
Joint Net-Centric Operations Campaign Plan:


Enjoyed this article? SUBSCRIBE NOW to keep the content flowing.