Bosnia to base: Stop shipping computers!
- By Paul Constance
- Mar 18, 1996
Two months into Operation Joint Endeavor, U.S. troops in Eastern
Europe are struggling with a severe case of computer overload.
"Don't send us any more boxes!" one harassed field commander recently told
his superiors at the Pentagon. PCs and workstations are piling up inside U.S. command
centers in Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary, according to field reports.
Rear Adm. John Gauss, deputy director for engineering and interoperability at the
Defense Information Systems Agency, said commanders in Bosnia are warning that they don't
have the people to set up, operate and administer an ever-increasing number of standalone
In contrast to the Persian Gulf war, where forces were burdened by access problems,
slow batch processing for mainframe applications and a chronic shortage of bandwidth,
soldiers in Bosnia are suffering an embarrassment of information riches.
Part of the reason: the unprecedented constellation of commercial and military
satellites that is flooding the region with data around the clock, Gauss and other
Pentagon brass said.
Another factor is that many military information management organizations see Joint
Endeavor as a golden opportunity to test and showcase newly developed systems in the
field, where they might get the high-level visibility that will ensure future funding.
The result is a sometimes chaotic mix of proven older systems, upgraded systems and
purely experimental applications, all fielded at once. And though most of the newer
applications run on off-the-shelf computers under Unix, field users are discovering that
they are anything but interoperable.
According to Gauss, field commanders in Bosnia are complaining that most of the new
applications are hosted on different flavors of Unix. Each application has different
security and log-on procedures and requires one-of-a-kind training for operators. Each
application also requires a separate computer and monitor, and in some cases dedicated
printers and servers, all of which add up to a systems management nightmare.
"We have built a bunch of state-of-the-art, open-systems, TAFIM-compliant
stovepipes," Gauss said, referring to DISA's Technical Architecture for Information
The situation is a grim vindication for experts who have warned that the TAFIM
standards are far too broad to guarantee interoperability. The problems also are giving an
unexpected boost to DISA's new systems integration initiative, the Defense Information
Infrastructure Common Operating Environment (DII COE).
As Gauss and others have argued since DISA announced the DII COE plans last fall, a
common operating environment would eliminate the multiple-platform problem by ensuring
that all military applications share a common set of software services such as security
Then, numerous military applications could be hosted on any equipment with an OS that
meets the COE. The concept is often described as aiming for the plug-and-play
compatibility of applications written for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows environment
['MDUL'GCN'MDNM', March 4, Page 14].
Apparently alarmed that the interoperability problems in Bosnia might hobble future
deployments, senior IRM officers are abandoning their traditionally wary view of new DISA
initiatives and unabashedly embracing the DII COE.
"We on the Joint Staff are absolutely and totally committed to the Global Combat
Support System strategy," Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, director for command, control,
communication and computer systems for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a recent
American Defense Preparedness Association conference.
GCSS is a conceptual family of logistics, transport, medical and other support systems
that will meet DII COE specifications.
The senior IRM executives in each service--Air Force Lt. Gen. John Fairfield, Navy Rear
Adm. Richard Wilson, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David A. Richwine and Army Lt. Gen. Otto
Guenther--made equally explicit endorsements of the COE concept at the same event.
Even the regional commanders-in-chief (CINCs), usually the last to endorse DISA's
standardization efforts, are championing the COE. A January memo, obtained by GCN, from
the senior systems officer under the CINC for the U.S. Pacific Command, says, "As a
matter of policy, no new application will be delivered to the theater unless it is
COE-compliant or on a clear migration path."
DISA has released the DII COE Integration & Runtime Specification, which details
how systems can be made COE-compliant, and the agency intends to release free licenses of
COE software segments this spring.