Franks credits technology with decisive wins

'FBCB2 for the first time in history gave ground commanders a precise sense of forces.'

'Gen. Tommy Franks

R.D. Ward, courtesy of the Defense Department

Army Gen. Tommy Franks watched ground forces advance toward Baghdad on dozens of high-definition, flat-panel plasma monitors.

On one screen, the former commander of the Central Command observed a blue icon representing friendly forces moving across a plasma television, far ahead of its squadron and approaching enemy territory.

'It was moving boldly toward downtown Baghdad,' Franks recalled.

The general began to fear that the troops were too far ahead of supporting units, but he soon got word that the blue forces on the screen were only 30 minutes in front of a reconnaissance force headed for Saddam International Airport. That airport, Franks was informed, would be seized in less than four hours.

The message and the technology used to convey it got the same reaction. 'Oh my God!' Franks said to audience laughter at the third annual Network Centric Warfare 2004 conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.

Franks' story highlights the emergence of systems that can track allied and enemy forces in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Systems such as the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below help military planners keep forces moving and fighting quickly and efficiently.

'FBCB2 for the first time in history gave ground commanders a precise sense of forces,' Franks said.

The same was true in Afghanistan, Franks said.

When the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979, it committed 625,000 troops to the region for longer than 11 years. The Soviets saw 15,000 soldiers die in battle and 55,000 more wounded. But the United States-led coalition that has been in Afghanistan since 2001 has suffered far fewer casualties'in the hundreds'Franks said, thanks to a smarter way of fighting.

'Operating in a net-centric way completely destroyed the Taliban in 75 days,' he said.

The digitally connected Franks, carrying a BlackBerry handheld computer from Research In Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Ontario, and a credit-card-sized digital camera in his suit pocket, said the military has made huge advances in technology but stressed that it needed to push further to reap all the benefits of network-centric warfare.

'As we seek to transform the armed forces to become more network-centric, we need to think of effect first,' Franks said.

Support and sustainment

He said the military should add support and sustainment on the end of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the phrase it uses to describe most of its IT operations.

But while the military has achieved many IT successes in Iraq, one Army general said strides forward often are accompanied by failures.

'I'm not as optimistic as everyone you have heard from because I've been close to the fight,' Army Maj. Gen. Marilyn A. Quagliotti, vice director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said at the conference. 'We take one step forward and three steps back, and not all of it is related to technology.'

In Iraq, she said, the military failed to achieve effective network configuration management and interoperability.

'We are still developing stovepipe systems,' she said. 'They are still getting through our governance structure.'

For example, the Global Command and Control System runs under 16 different databases, each specific to a particular military branch or division. In March, DISA will field GCCS Version 4.0 under one master database, she said.

'We're redoing the architecture so we have [Extensible Markup Language] tagging on every database that fields GCSS. We will provide a front end tool for this,' Quagliotti said.

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