Defense leaders push interoperability agenda

ORLANDO'The convergence of military video, voice and data that led to the successful June 2006 air strike that killed al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq epitomizes the progress and the shortcomings the military faces in making its information systems interoperable, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Peterson at this week's MILCOM conference.

While commanders increasingly are able to make tactical decisions from real-time air reconnaissance and ground intelligence, 'The ability to do dynamic planning isn't there,' said Peterson, chief of warfighting integration and chief information officer, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force.

Peterson said the average time it takes to respond to 'time-sensitive targets,' measured in minutes, is in the 'low teens.' Yet '67 percent of that time involves manual communication because we're not fully interoperable.' On the positive side, he cited the ability to identify and redirect two F-16s in the closing minutes of the decision to attack. But in ensuring those aircraft were replaced in action, 'We still (had to) have people entering data from yellow sticky notes' instead of having drag-and-click notification.

Part of the interoperability challenges the Air Force and the Defense Department continue to face, Peterson said, lies with building common vocabularies around the data that needs to be discovered, accessed and exchanged across the '300 systems we use.'

To that end, Air Force officials, at the direction of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, have been participating in a series of working groups to build data vocabularies, Peterson said. The efforts are expected to yield improvements in flight planning and scheduling, and in speeding up the process for identifying the immunization status of troops about to be deployed. They are also expected to yield a new user-reconfigurable financial system dashboard in February designed to make it easier to monitor spending obligations and commitments relative to plans.

Peterson was one of a number of high-ranking military officials discussing ways to improve interoperability within the military at the three-day event, sponsored by AFCEA and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Army Deputy Chief Information Officer/G-6 Vernon Bettencourt Jr. said that interoperability, along with the integration of data, services, applications and governance standards, remains central to the G-6's 500-day plan.

Bettencourt stressed the importance of using joint test threads, which concentrate on checking application enhancements in selected streams, as one way of speeding up broader interoperability improvements. At the same time, he said, 'We have to be careful in Iraq to test systems before making changes,' noting the difficulty in predicting how improvements in interoperability can also result in unexpected problems in basic operability.

Bettencourt also noted that many of the interoperable technology tools envisioned for Future Combat Systems may be delayed as Defense Department spending comes under increasing pressure, adding urgency to the need to spiral out incremental improvements as they become available.

Cindy Moran, director of Network Services at the Defense Information Services Agency, emphasized that interoperability also requires providing a common view of information about the underlying network, not just information moving over it. 'People have to see the same things ' and see the network and the operational picture to fully understand what's going on' ' in order to make the best decisions, she said. 'We want to share network information across the DISN [Defense Information System Network] and about the DISN.'

Handling live-motion video over secured networks has become a primary requirement, and area of concern, for military information managers, she said.

The increasing reliance on video feeds, now commonly available over the Internet but still frequently blocked on Defense networks, remains an example of how interoperability policies continue to trail technological advances, Moran said.

DISA is currently working on DISN Video Services 2, a video-over-IP-based approach, to improve video services. The initial prototype is expected in December with more fully-operational capabilities expected in April.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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