For the lesson book

Thomas R. Temin

An old show biz axiom says, 'Make your mistakes in small rooms.'

To some extent, that's what the Defense Department did in Iraq. As noted in Dawn S. Onley's story about the continuing deployment in Iraq, DOD chieftains are poring over results from the recent war to find out how well networks worked and whether battlefield systems integration has improved.

The early analyses seem to be that systems fared a lot better than they did more than a decade ago during the first Gulf War.

Even so, the department and the armed services are not up to the current vision of network-centric warfare. Much of the first public analysis comes from one of DOD's more incisive thinkers, retired Navy Rear Adm. Arthur Cebrowski.

Pentagon brass are'in the main'tight-lipped about what they learned specifically, but Cebrowski told GCN the words pain, duress and torture applied to the process of achieving interoperability.

Civilian and military leaders at Defense also are coming to understand that data can overload the individual soldier or field-level officer. Turning a flood of data into usable intelligence represents a different technical challenge than bumping up bandwidth or assuring data exchange.

Defense has succeeded, Cebrowski says, in creating good computer-driven, intelligence-massing tools for admirals and generals'but not for foot soldiers.

Was Iraq really a small room? Certainly not in terms of the intensity with which the world anticipated and witnessed the conflict. No war can be considered trivial, but so far neither Operation Iraqi Freedom nor Operation Desert Scorpion has put the concepts of network-centric warfare to the ultimate test.

The hope is that further tests will be experimental exercises and war games. That's why Cebrowski's and all other post-facto analyses are crucial. And though the term lessons learned is overused in government, in this instance it's apt. Military planners and systems designers must leave no interaction or segment of the deployed infrastructure unexamined in making sure IT for the battlefield is increasingly efficient and reliable.

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