GAO cites barriers in military communications

The military saw marked improvements in its IT networks during recent combat operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Still some barriers, including the lack of standardized interoperable systems and equipment, prevented those improvements from being even more striking, according to a General Accounting Office report released today.

In reviewing the operational results of those three conflicts, with a focus on bombing operations, GAO found DOD's ability to rapidly exchange information was hindered by disparate systems.

For example, despite the successes in Afghanistan, ground troops had substantial problems relaying target coordinates to aircraft due to an unreliable and limited range of secure communications and a shortage of digital communications systems, GAO found.

'As a result, instead of instantaneously transmitting targeting information across digital systems, ground controllers were required to pass Global Positioning System coordinates by voice radio to aircrews. Aircrews then had to write the coordinates on boards held on their knees, and then read them back for confirmation,' said Neal P. Curtin, director of Defense Capabilities and Management in the report. 'Once confirmed, aircrews needed to load the coordinates by hand into the weapons, a process requiring as many as 51 computer keystrokes and subject to error.'

Also in Iraq, ground forces arrived with several non-interoperable Blue Force Tracking systems.

BFT is a tool used to identify friendly and enemy forces. It was installed in Army, Marine Corps and coalition vehicles and helicopters, as well as at command posts.

The Defense Department says it is addressing its interoperability issues, in part with the development of the Global Information Grid. GIG is a framework Defense officials have described as the military's private version of the World Wide Web.

Glenn F. Lamartin, director of Defense Systems with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, said DOD mostly concurred with GAO's recommendations.

The recommendations include taking steps to improve standardization of information used in bombing operations; addressing continuing problems with battle damage assessments; developing a unified battlefield information system to improve analyses of combat effectiveness; and developing a joint operations training capability to simulate the emerging changes to the operating environment due to the quick pace of war.

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