Conflict Accelerates Deployment of Conceptual Techniques

December 2001
By Maryann Lawlor
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U.S. military brings knowledge gained from experiments to bear on current challenges.

The war on terrorism and heightened homeland security are prompting the U.S. military to re-evaluate its priorities and accelerate the use of strategic concepts that only months ago were in the experimental stage. Although some of the tactical approaches are not in the polished form they would have been in several years from now, certain aspects can and are making their way into today’s efforts.

Communications and information technologies are playing a key role. Collaborative and predictive capabilities are assisting the militaries of the allied force to coordinate their efforts and achieve their goals. And, decision makers believe that current needs will accelerate both the development and use of networking communications technologies.

Military leaders at the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), Norfolk, Virginia, who for some time have been tasked with transforming the services and preparing for the next major conflict, allow that their forecasts about the nature of that conflict were very accurate. Col. Christopher Shepherd, USA, strategic communications division chief, Joint Experimentation Directorate (J-9), JFCOM, points out that a major thrust of the directorate’s conceptual work has focused on rapid decisive operations, or RDOs, against adversaries that are very much like the ones the world faces today.

“We were almost clairvoyant as we described the enemy as a complex system of systems. We never described the next adversary as a group or a nation. Much of our work now has been directed at distributing the information we have and the lessons we’ve learned [during experiments] to the people who are going to use it,” Col. Shepherd offers. As some of these new techniques are deployed, an established team will focus on evaluating effectiveness and turning around the lessons learned immediately so that improved methods can be used promptly, he adds.

In his address to the U.S. Congress shortly after the attack on America, President Bush outlined a three-part campaign on terrorism: destroying terrorists, coercing the regimes that support terrorism and protecting the country. The colonel points out that a large portion of what the J-9 does and the concepts it has been exploring relate quite well to achieving these goals.

For example, during Unified Vision 2001 (UV 01), an experiment that took place this summer, the J-9 examined the concept of permanent joint force headquarters (JFHQ) units (SIGNAL, August, page 53). The JFHQ would integrate various military specialties such as tactics, operations, intelligence and information operations into a single component and would be the focal point for the convergence of assets from other government agencies.

“We need some kind of joint force headquarters because we have seen the problems with the ad hoc nature of joint force headquarters that are established during a crisis. Much can be done in such an organization before we need it.

“There is no military-only solution to this problem. It requires the synchronous application of diplomatic, information, military and economic resources. When conducting a military operation, a key part is to roll in those other elements, and that has not been done in the past. So the experiments have looked at having one unit with reach-back capability that can get to the information and is responsible for sharing that information with the people in charge,” Col. Shepherd relates.

One of the responsibilities of the JFHQ staff would be to conduct operational net assessments (ONAs), which are ongoing analyses of adversaries’ ability and will to fight. It is a system-of-systems approach that reviews not only military capabilities but also political, economic, cultural, diplomatic, information and other systems.

“In UV 01, we found out that we are really good at figuring out the military portion of a military campaign. But when trying to roll in the diplomatic, information and economic elements, we in the Defense Department do not have the experience to put those things together,” the colonel states. To improve this capability, the directorate conducts experiments such as UV 01 and will conjoin them during Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC 02), which the colonel emphasizes will still take place in July and August 2002. “Experiments continue; in fact, they are accelerated because the need is accelerated,” he adds.

In addition to the JFHQ concept, UV 01 participants examined another idea called effects-based operations (EBOs). Like operational net assessments, EBOs view an enemy as a system of systems. The technique expands on the relationship between tactics and operations, and the goal is to take apart the connection among the adversary’s systems (SIGNAL, August, page 57).

Limited EBOs have been employed in the past, for example, conducting air strikes against an adversary’s communications facilities to limit the sharing of information. However, the EBO methods JFCOM has recently been exploring are more extensive and address political, economic, cultural and decision-making factors. Because such operations are so far-reaching, a danger exists that unintended consequences may result from a single action.

“We continue to examine how to roll together the second, third and fourth order of effects to be sure that the things we do today are the best. It is said that the seeds of the next war are sown in the war you’re fighting now. We have to set up a winning scenario for the next conflict,” Col. Shepherd emphasizes.

Information technologies are a key enabler to both the JFHQ and EBO concepts, the colonel says. And the United States has an advantage in this area because of its commercial endeavors. “One of our big strengths is our industry. We leverage off of what they do in a lot of cases—not just in defense but in all of American industry, especially information technology. This war will serve to accelerate the idea of networking everything. When we began to share information among the different agencies after the attack, we found that we actually had a lot of information. The commercial sector develops and should continue to make products where information can be shared from a lot of different elements.

“In knowledge management, the principles are exactly right on target. We need to get the right information to the people who need it. Linking up people, not just information, that’s the important piece of it,” Col. Shepherd maintains.

Brig. Gen. Walter I. Jones, USAF, chief information officer, JFCOM, agrees that collaborative and predictive technologies are important and enable reliable, secure online communications that support cooperation among nations.

“For a long time, our coalition command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities have been in operations. These will be expanded to allow coalitions to actively participate in the decision making and situational awareness. So the systems are very instrumental.

“The U.S. Defense Department has been working with coalition partners for interoperability, and it’s a continuous process. There are continuous challenges, but we are getting better in our abilities to be able to share information,” Gen. Jones states.

The general’s staff of nearly 200 military and civilian personnel, known as the JFCOM, J-6, provides information technology expertise and support to the command’s headquarters and subordinate staff. He points out that JFCOM now is working with Defense Department leadership to refocus on the priority of homeland defense and security.

Advanced predictive analysis technologies and collaborative tools are rapidly being inserted into the current operations. “The Defense Department has tried to use COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] products to the greatest extent possible. Security is always of utmost concern. We always are looking to build security up at the front versus having to bolt it on after the fact,” Gen. Jones offers.

Information warfare tactics are a concern in this conflict. The general points out that everyone should maintain good firewalls and employ other security measures to protect their information, particularly in respect to banking or corporate information. Although he would not disclose whether the United States is employing or will employ information operations in the war on terrorism, he did not rule out the possibility. “I would think that we will use all of our national capabilities in this conflict,” he allows.

Col. Shepherd agrees that a variety of tactics must be brought to bear on fighting terrorists. “I agree with Henry Kissinger when he said, ‘I’d make sure that they’d be spending more time staying alive than planning terrorism.’ I think that’s what’s going on now. They’re spending more time on staying alive,” the colonel says.

He also points out that the nature of the recent attacks and current activity differs from what the United States and its allies have faced in the past. “There is a totally different time scale at work than in the past wars. September 11 had been in planning stages for more than three years. Even if we had wiped them all out on September 12, there could still be a lot of things that have already been set in motion,” he relates.

Countering this kind of organization requires the cooperative efforts of many nations, and this is work that the experimentation directorate at JFCOM has been involved in for some time. “We get involved in the coalition effort in a large way. When we went to the commanders in chief of the various commands, the first thing they raised their voices about was multinational information sharing. There are a few folks pushing that rock uphill with us because it comes in direct conflict with information sharing rules,” Col. Shepherd states.

However, the colonel adds that open source information experiments demonstrate that, while caution is warranted, information sharing may not pose as great a threat as some anticipate. During the experiments, information collection tasks were assigned to two groups of personnel. One team could use only open source information, for example the Internet, to gather data; the other could use only restricted sources. “We found out that about 95 percent of the information is available through open sources. So if we can find that much information through open sources, then we can get to the position of being able to share information with allies,” he points out.

Technology continues to be a key to sharing data quickly, both among the various U.S. armed forces and with allies, and Gen. Jones recommends that companies work closely with JFCOM so that they can understand the concepts it is exploring. “We are charged with the role of transformation. Companies need to understand the concepts so that the technology can be developed. Research and development dollars are short, so they want to be focused,” the general says. The command sponsors industry days; however, they occur annually, so the general suggests that firms foster a relationship with JFCOM that allows them to remain aware of ongoing work.

Additional information on the U.S. Joint Forces Command is available on the World Wide Web at

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