Information Technology Needed to Reach The Far Horizon

February 2004
By Capt. Jim Hickerson, USN (Ret.)


Adm. Walter F. Doran, USN, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, addresses attendees at AFCEA's TechNet Asia-Pacific 2003 Conference and Exposition in Honolulu. 

Government, military and industry attack “the tyranny of distance.”

With the Pacific Command’s area of responsibility covering 51 percent of the Earth’s surface, making information technology work to break the distance barrier is essential to the security of the Asia-Pacific region. This fact was emphasized to more than 3,000 attendees throughout AFCEA’s TechNet Asia-Pacific 2003 Conference and Exposition. Held November 4-6 in Honolulu, the 18th annual event examined topics such as getting timely information to the correct person; sharing information; information security; policy, strategy, doctrine and organizational transformation; and the government/military/industry team. Senior military speakers and panelists discussed these themes as the requirements necessary to defeat “the tyranny of distance.”

The event’s kickoff speaker, Lt. Gen. Robert R. Dierker, USAF, deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), stated that “PACOM’s biggest enemy is distance. In order to prosecute the global war on terrorism and to maintain the readiness and adaptability of PACOM’s armed forces, we must deal with the tyranny of distance. Information technology provides the capability to understand, decide and act, but only if the information is shared. Being able to share is key. We are here as a team, and together we will solve the problem,” he concluded.


Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific, speaks at the TechNet Asia-Pacific Tuesday luncheon.

The first day’s luncheon speaker, Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific, discussed the growing importance of the Pacific Rim, noting that the United States is a nation at war. The 25th Infantry Division (Light) soon will make its largest deployment since Vietnam. As the “new guy on the block,” Gen. Campbell is looking for information technology to provide interoperability in all command and control systems, including those of U.S. allies. “Think joint” was his message. He finished his presentation with a tribute to U.S. soldiers, and he cited an example: “A returned soldier raised his right hand to be sworn in as a citizen of the United States; it was the only limb he was able to use as he had lost both legs and his left arm in combat in Iraq.”

The morning speaker on the second day was Capt. Glenn A. Wiltshire, USCG, chief of staff, 14th Coast Guard District. Capt. Wiltshire stated, “Homeland security is the Coast Guard’s top priority along with our everyday mission of search and rescue. Ninety-five percent of the United States’ trade comes through our ports, and the Coast Guard’s focus is on making our ports and sea lanes secure. Our goal is to ‘push borders out.’ Interoperability with our service partners and the capability to fuse information from various sources, which then can be analyzed and used in the decision process, is the best area for IT innovation.” He expects that the Coast Guard/information technology industry team will play a significant role in the ongoing Coast Guard modernization.

Adm. Walter F. Doran, USN, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was the luncheon speaker. “Working as a team is essential to breaking the distance barrier,” he said. “It took George Washington eight days to travel the 200 miles between Mt. Vernon and Washington, D.C. It had been the same for 2,000 years. Technology broke down that distance barrier. Today, information technology is allowing our current distance barrier to be broken and also is enabling transformation in the military.” Adm. Doran concluded by relating a story about former president Ronald Reagan. “President Reagan was speaking to a group of students. During the question period, a student stated, ‘You will never understand my generation. We have grown up with computers, television, jet travel, space travel and medical breakthroughs.’ As the student took a breath, the president said, ‘you are correct—we didn’t have all those things, we invented them.’” Adm. Doran challenged the military/industry team to keep the United States on top by breaking down barriers.


Gathering at TechNet Asia-Pacific 2003 are, from the left, Lt. Gen Robert R. Dierker, USAF, deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Command; Hawaii's lieutenant governor, Duke Aiona; and AFCEA Hawaii Chaper member Dan Carvahlo, one of the original signatories of the chapter's charter 50 years ago. 

The third and final day of the event began with a challenge from the breakfast speaker. “The theme of this conference asks us to look at technology to solve a strategic problem. We’re distant from the shores of Asia. But, our friends and allies face proximate threats. These threats include traditional military might, as with the North Korean People’s Army, terrorism and the most egregious forms of anti-American propaganda generated by our sworn enemies in other parts of the world. All these are linked in an unholy alliance through universally available networked communications.” The speaker, Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson, USMC, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, continued. “Breaking the distance barrier is important, and technology can help, but only if we understand what else has to change. We can’t afford to mate new technology to old procedures, to pull tanks with horses, to print e-mail.

“Our enemies have transformed,” he added, “broken the distance barrier across the Pacific and around the world. They also have broken organizational and operational barriers. Small organizations and individuals are now accorded a prominence previously reserved for enemy states. Like rock stars, they are known by their first names—Osama, Ramsi and others. Information technology has broken many barriers for our enemies, enabling an old man in a cave in Afghanistan to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”

Gen. Gregson concluded by issuing a directive: “The question for this conference may be breaking the distance barrier, policy, strategy, doctrine and organization. We need to look at distance in the conceptual and organizational sense, not just the geographical sense. Meeting this threat is going to be a team sport. We will need to share immigration, movement, financial transactions and identity data among many governments in an unprecedented fashion, yet still respect sovereignty and privacy. We need to share data across many organs of the U.S. government in very new, different and, to some, threatening ways.

“This war requires all the elements of national power, not just defense, to be decisively and effectively engaged. We can’t wait for the nontechnicians among us—me as the poster child—to realize the potential impact of emerging technology on our policy, strategy, doctrine and organization. Skilled experts, this audience included, must dare to tread into the hallowed realms that decide these security issues. We need you to delve into the policy, strategy, doctrine and organization debates and argue with the specialists. In this way you can combine the best ideas of technological possibilities and decisively shape the changes we must make in our national security structure. Not only the United States, but also our friends, allies and everyone who aspires to a better life is counting on it,” Gen. Gregson declared.

Brig. Gen. Glenn F. Spears, USAF, director of plans and programs, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), was the conference’s final luncheon speaker. “[At] plans and programs, we attempt to take full advantage of information technology to leverage its nearly boundless capabilities to save dollars, save manpower and reduce risk. From the origins of our Air Force, there has been a unique connection between our service and technology. In fact, from the defining moment of powered flight in 1903 to the creation of the Air Force as a separate service in 1947, to the present—the Air Force and technology have been inexorably linked.”

Gen. Spears noted that the PACOM area of responsibility covers more than 100 million square miles. While some 70 percent of it is covered by water, all of it is covered by air and space. And, this area is home to nearly two billion people who live in 43 countries and track 16 time zones. “Do we rely heavily on information technology to do our job? You bet we do. Information technology helps us prevail over the tyranny of distance,” he allowed. “Today information may be the world’s hottest commodity. However, the military wants more than information; it wants and needs information superiority. Information technology is a crucial area that helps us to gain information superiority, improve readiness and enhance mission performance. Advanced information technologies allow us to engage any target, anywhere in the world, at any time.”

The general continued that, during recent U.S. conflicts, information technology was a true force multiplier. “Information technology reduced risk, saved manpower and money, increased efficiencies and improved effectiveness. Many heard the story of young airmen riding on horseback in Afghanistan—and using a laptop, [global positioning system] and a laser designator, they successfully directed surface attack and close air support. They leveraged technology to employ strikes from B-52s, a mid-20th-century-designed platform engaged in a 21st century battle. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls it the first cavalry attack of the 21st century. Better still, we used datalinks and feeds to employ an unmanned aerial vehicle with air-to-ground missiles in a close air support role.

“One of our key lessons learned from recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is the criticality of our air operations center [AOC],” Gen. Spears added. “Today, the Air Force considers our AOCs as a weapons system—just like a B-1, C-17 or F-16. The Pacific AOC is capable of planning and executing thousands of combat and combat support sorties daily. It can orchestrate detailed airspace deconfliction between hundreds of aircraft and conduct simultaneous time-critical targeting. This will be accomplished thousands of miles away from the battlespace.

“To do that, we must have uninterruptible and secure communication and bandwidth,” he declared. Addressing industry officials in the audience, he added, “Where we require the most help from you is managing our data to maximize existing bandwidth. We also need your help to investigate ways to increase our available bandwidth.

“Without a doubt, every combat sortie and virtually every action taken by PACAF forces has one thing in common,” the general emphasized. “They all rely on information technology to get the job done. We are just beginning to leverage information technology fully to help us improve our readiness and boost mission performance. The U.S. Air Force is unquestionably a service born of technology and transformation. Much of our attitude toward technology is a direct result of the close bonds the warfighters share with the scientists and engineers—great men and women like you.” Gen. Spears added that he looks to this audience to help mold and shape the future. Its collective knowledge is priceless in applying leading-edge technologies effectively, he said.

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