Military fights C4I digital divide

Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf says the armed services have made 'remarkable advances in interoperability' since Desert Storm.

More than 170,000 U.S. and allied troops fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom'many without adequate command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems. Ground troops often had a blurry battlefield picture, although commanders had 'unparalleled control of battle formations,' said Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commanding general of Army forces during the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Wallace called this the digital divide between the operational and the tactical levels of war. He said inadequate bandwidth, incompatible C4I architectures, patchy on-the-move capabilities, static on terrestrial networks and poor dissemination of intelligence also plagued troops in Iraq.

Wallace and other top military leaders spoke before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities last month.

'Despite all the incredible products at the disposal of my assault command post, we could not get relevant photos, imagery or joint data down to the soldier level in near-real time,' said Wallace, who outlined what worked and what didn't for the congressional leaders.

Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), chairman of the subcommittee, said he convened the session to tap into the C4I lessons the military learned so legislators could understand the shortfalls of operations in Iraq.

'To provide our warfighters the most accurate real-time information, they must have the latest C4I systems to receive and move that data over secure communication links,' he said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf, vice commander of the Air Force Space Command, and Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, deputy commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Brigade, gave their perspectives on how their C4I systems performed.

Leaf said he has watched the armed services make 'remarkable advances in interoperability' since Operation Desert Storm. Stalder said the Marines 'planned, established and refined the most complex and advanced C4I system [the Corps] has ever used.'

'We have solved several major problems'timely sharing of tasking orders, common situational awareness tools and improved communications,' Leaf said. Air units shared a common operating environment that let commanders and coalition forces transfer information seamlessly through classified networks and videoconferences.

But Air Force Brig. Gen. Marc Rogers, director of the Joint Requirements and Integration Directorate at the Joint Forces Command, told congressional leaders that collaboration between services was ad hoc and needed improvement. 'The many service and functional systems had to be linked together,' he said. 'The lack of seamless architectures affected their ability to collaborate in real time and use information from various databases.'

Rogers said the Joint Forces Command has initiatives under way to improve collaboration among the services, including the Deployable Joint Command and Control System and the Standing Joint Forces Headquarters prototype, which should be ready in two years.

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