7 November 1997
Source: C4I News


By Kenneth Allard

In this issue, C4I News debuts a new feature, "Point of View," a regular guest column by military and industry experts. The column will address important issues in the C4I arena. For the inaugural column, we invited former Army Col. Kenneth Allard to address the services' traditional interoperability problems and to propose some solutions. Allard's book Command, Control, and the Common Defense won the 1991 National Security Book Award. His latest book, Somalia: Lessons Learned, has become a standard reference in the military. Last year, Allard served on special assignment with U.S. forces in Bosnia. He holds a doctorate from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy and is affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If American military forces are on the same side, then why do they still have a problem talking to each other? And when the Internet links millions of disparate users, why do our military forces still develop and procure separate command, control and information systems in which duplication is a constant and interoperability an after- thought?

These are important and unanswered questions for an American military establishment committed, at least on paper, to the ideal of "information dominance." Although this terrible swift sword of information-centered weaponry may be the decisive advantage in 21st century combat, its attainment is unlikely unless we solve the interoperability problem. The core issue is Title 10, United States Code, which grants the military services their traditional authority to "organize, train and equip" the nation's armed forces for combat. This historical division of labor, effective enough in producing the tanks, ships and aircraft that dominated industrial age combat, may not be the best way to produce the future systems on which information dominance will depend.

The basic reason is structural: separately organized military services always put their own needs first and joint concerns second- especially when building command and control systems. As a result, the information infrastructures of Desert Storm, Somalia, and Bosnia have been too bulky, taken too long to transport and been too fragile-- despite a lack of determined opposition. So far our adversaries have also granted the priceless gift of time to find the work-arounds necessary for these systems to function at all. In Somalia, communications problems reminiscent of Grenada a decade earlier initially prevented Army medical teams in Mogadishu from communicating with Navy hospital ships offshore. And in 1994 over northern Iraq, interoperability and teamwork problems played a major role when Air Force fighters mistakenly downed two Army Blackhawk helicopters in a tragedy that cost 26 lives.

Such confusion often results from redundancy because there are simply too many C3I systems--anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000, according to one Pentagon estimate last year. This is an astounding total, especially since then Under Secretary of Defense William Perry ordered reductions in 1993, as part of the post Cold War downsizing. This effort, however, has generated more paper than progress, since each system has its own infrastructure deeply embedded within each service. But a day of reckoning is coming because many will require expensive fixes to deal with the Year 2000 software problem. Even worse is the dilemma of defending such a hodgepodge against the new wave of cyber attacks-estimated by the General Accounting Office at more than 250,000 a year.

Despite the stakes, there has been a notable reluctance by decision-makers in Congress or the Pentagon to confront the core issues of this problem directly. The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) suggested that Congress might close unnecessary bases, but it never addressed the issue of saving money by reducing the overhead costs of DoD's redundant C3I systems. Neither did it offer any thoughts about how the cost of future systems--by some estimates $150-$160 billion over five years--might be reduced by less duplication and better teamwork at the drawing board. Although Defense Secretary William Cohen has not yet weighed in on the interoperability and overhead issues, there may be some reason for optimism. An early advocate of the Goldwater-Nichols reforms, then Sen. Cohen sponsored the 1996 legislation setting up "chief information officers" throughout the government-presumably to deal with the same information management problems he now confronts as Defense Secretary. So far, his former institution has similarly failed to challenge the QDR premises or to indicate any interest in revisiting the issue of Title 10 authority. With obvious incentives to save money by reducing infrastructure and investment costs, this lack of congressional initiative may well be the most remarkable facet of the problem.

In the Pentagon this means a slightly glossier version of the status quo. On the one hand, the emphasis on joint operations means that it is politically incorrect to speak of service preferences other than as elements of a "common operating environment" that always recedes into the future. Such an environment is indeed the declared objective of the new Global Command and Control System--or GCCS--and not coincidentally called "geeks." But instead of a top-down architecture requiring unambiguous strategic choices between winners and losers, GCCS is little more than a building code. Meanwhile, the separate service procurement machines clank onward, the game being to have one's own system "blessed" as the approved joint solution.

This rush to the courthouse is not quite the same thing as what is truly needed: a system that creates cross-service incentives to ask, "Who else has this problem?" The astounding idea that other services may have encountered similar technological challenges is not a normal part of the present process. Nor, despite four years of determined efforts, is there an instinctive reliance by the acquisition community on the common solutions that commercial technologies offer.

One hears often enough in the Pentagon about the need to think "outside the box," so maybe it is time to try some new methods to solve an old problem. First, there is every reason to prune outdated legacy systems promptly. Without draconian action by the department's leadership, the sheer weight of bureaucratic inertia will insure that this overhead continues to add costs and to make security more difficult. The Year 2000 problem is a great opportunity to insure that only those systems which must be maintained are targeted for these vital software fixes.

While there are a number of means to identify these systems and retire the others, one of the more practical would be to impanel a group of outside experts to compile such a "hit list. " The charge to this group ought not to be the traditional, "How much is enough?"--but rather, "How many is demonstrably too few?"

Once this underbrush is cleared, there remains the more difficult problem of determining how best to shape future systems so that there is a reversal of priority in putting service concerns first and joint interoperability second. Congress should take the leading role in this determination. One way is to amend Title 10 to give the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff budgetary authority over C3I systems, enabling him to realize the technology master plan of Joint Vision 2010. The trick would be to re-direct the creativity of the services to allow the Chairman to winnow the "best of the best" from competing service systems, and to do this without creating a new bureaucratic nightmare. By any measure, this is a tall order. It would also represent a new expansion in the Chairman's powers, as well as a major adjustment in the roles and missions of the armed services. For that reason alone, such a step ought not to be taken lightly, especially in a country which does not easily centralize power, much less when the hand wears a gauntlet. And yet there is reason enough to bestir ourselves, if only because of the proven cost in lives and dollars. But there is another and better reason: any uncorrected weakness is a vulnerability that more adept and determined opponents will be certain to exploit in the future.