Command system gets 11 upgrades since Sept. 11

DISA's Diann McCoy says that as recently as the early 1990s, Defense commanders mapped out battlefield scenarios on chalkboards.

The Defense Department is working on a corollary to the adage that what you don't know can kill you. It goes: What modern warfighters know can kill their enemies.

To accomplish the goals of neutralizing enemy troops and protecting U.S. interests, DOD's military forces need the right information as quickly as possible.

For Operation Enduring Freedom, which Defense chieftains are calling the first network-centric war, U.S. forces have accomplished both feats, mainly because of the steady stream of data filtering into more than 40 command and control systems under the framework of the joint Global Command and Control System.

Today, the military views information as a weapon. The ammunition comes in the form of
e-mail, Web pages and text or graphics files.

Killer app

GCCS, which has received 11 upgrades since Sept. 11, has given warfighters an edge with applications that bring new meaning to the term 'killer app.' Each of the services has contributed to the system, integrating apps into a framework to present a single, integrated battle view.

'We have good awareness,' said Diann McCoy, principal director of the Applications Engineering Directorate at the Defense Information Systems Agency. 'We're reducing the number of friendly fire incidents. And Special Operations forces tend to operate much smaller' than they previously did.

The Central Command in Tampa, Fla., which runs Operation Enduring Freedom, has received many megabytes of maps, images, intelligence data and logistical information from cameras and sensors on unmanned aerial vehicles, such as Predator and Global Hawk drones crossing the skies over Afghanistan.

Incoming data

Plus, every day, U.S. forces in Afghanistan transmit voice, video and electronic data to CENTCOM, joint forces, other major commands and the individual service branches, alerting leaders to the locations of enemy troops and allied forces.

Command and control technology aboard the unmanned aircraft can alert pilots to targets they didn't see. Such tactics have been used often during Operation Enduring Freedom, Defense officials said.

Although military officials are reluctant to give details of how such tactics are used, employing a global system to direct smaller systems has proven a key part of the decision-making process in Afghanistan, said Ronald Pontius, DISA's program manager for GCCS.

'Once you have information about the enemy, you can take decisive action,' Pontius said. 'You have the information you need to make an informative decision. GCCS helps reduce that cycle.'

The upgrades and security patches made to GCCS since Sept. 11 are expected to improve the system's accuracy. They include the rollout of the Integrated Imagery and Intelligence (I3) application on Oct. 15 and enhancements to the Common Operational Picture.

Many applications feed into COP, including joint mapping; the ability to track supplies, personnel and ammunition; and communications with external systems and sensors, Pontius said.

In May, DISA introduced GCCS Version 3.4, which included upgrades to COP and I3, and added the ability to tap more data feeds. Defense developers also have upgraded administrative software.

For I3, the streaming videos shot by unmanned aircraft and fed to military commanders are clearer than before and transmit faster.
DISA also is using new office applications, such as Star Office for Unix workstations and Microsoft Office 2000 for PCs.

The applications were chosen for their customization features, Pontius said.

The thrust, Pontius said, is to move toward Web-enabling all GCCS applications.

'Right now, we have a traditional client-server architecture,' he said. 'Part of Web-enabling is to move to an end-tier architecture.'
McCoy said the Worldwide Military Command and Control System, which GCCS replaced, offered a far less dynamic picture of the battlefield.

In the early 1990s, before DISA introduced its first version of GCCS, commanders sat in a room and mapped out strategies on a chalkboard, she said.

They relied heavily on the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System for force planning, but because of WWMCCS' interface problems, officials didn't
have a complete battlefield picture.

'It's truly a success story. We're leveraging the best functions across DOD,' Pontius said. 'DOD made a decision in 1994-95 that GCCS would be an evolutionary program for spiral development.'

The development strategy speeds up the procurement process by deploying an early version of a system rather than waiting for its final configuration.

This approach accelerates implementation and lets DOD shed older systems that are costly to maintain, Pontius said.

Access to better information has bred a desire among commanders for even more access. Now they want a handle on battle information as it moves through military organizations. Gaining that control is the next step in developing Defense's C2 systems, Pontius and McCoy said.

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