Brass warn of data overload

'Soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are our only assets. Without them, the highest technical platform has no value.'

'Navy's Susan Morrisey Livingstone

SAN DIEGO'The new command and control technologies on ships, aircraft and land combat vehicles are bringing warfighters perilously close to information overload, current and former military chiefs say.

'We've got a net for everything. We don't need a net for everything,' retired Maj. Gen. Larry Livingston said. 'Somebody's got to control it, or we'll never solve the overload problem.'

Speaking this month at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's West 2003 conference, the former Marine Corps commander and other DOD brass urged the Defense Department to better integrate C2 networks and fuse data collection systems to make the best use of limited bandwidth and to achieve information superiority.

Susan Morrisey Livingstone, undersecretary of the Navy, agreed and added that the services must not lose sight of the users of these technologies.

'Soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are our only assets. Without them, the highest technical platform has no value,' Livingstone said. 'Unless they understand [the technologies], such tools and gadgets become meaningless.'

With all of the advances, IT use in warfare 'is still limited,' she added. 'It is undercut by bureaucracy and can still suffer from information overload.'

Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the Navy Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Atlantic Fleet, said it's time for military leaders to make tough decisions about which technologies to keep and integrate, and which to throw out. There is not enough bandwidth to run every system, he said.

Not all or nothing

Military chieftains must 'determine which changes, which technologies, which improvements are worth the investment and which are not. Being a champion for all of these means being a champion for none of them,' Natter said.

The decisions will be even tougher to make because today's warfighter wants it all, said retired Vice Adm. Alexander Krekich, now president and chief executive officer of the Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Corp. of Norfolk, Va.

'The warfighter is always going to tell you, 'Give me more.' I think we're getting to the point of overload,' Krekich said. 'How do you integrate the information in a usable fashion? I think we've gotten too mesmerized by communications and lost sight of [good] decisions.'

Although officials said there's a need for better systems integration, they credited technology with helping American forces in Afghanistan by giving warfighters good battlefield information quickly.

Advantage, USA

For Operation Enduring Freedom, troops relied on targeting, precision-guided munitions and interoperable systems much more than they did during the Gulf War. If the Unites States goes to war with Iraq, military leaders said DOD will roll out new, more integrated systems to give warfighters an edge.

'War has often been a catalyst for improving the way we fight,' said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 'Information sharing allows transparency in both planning and execution. History is pretty clear. The one who can do that the fastest, usually wins.'

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