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G-6 says OIF validates IT Transformation path

by Joe Burlas

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 27, 2003) -- While there still remain some bugs to tweak and a lot of work, Operation Iraqi Freedom has validated the Army Knowledge Management framework track for transforming the way soldiers of all ranks get and share information, both in peace and war, according to the Army's top Signal Corps officer.

Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, the Army G-6/chief information officer, shared his vision of how future joint and netted Army command, control, communications and computers systems should operate over a global broadcast system. He explained his vision to more than 200 Information Technology military, government and industry officials who attended the third annual Army IT Day in McLean, Va., May 27.

"The Army today is at war and transforming at the same time," Cuviello said. "As we see senior leaders go, some may wonder what the future will bring. I believe we have reached a point of irreversible momentum.

"The real work is getting done in the field -- that is where the fighting and transformation is getting done. As new senior leaders come, we will probably see some strategic changes, but the core work will continue."

Lessons learned from Army operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past year have validated many IT Transformation concepts, Cuviello said.

The Army has realized for some time that it needs better energy sources than batteries to power the majority of its IT systems, Cuviello said, and thus has been exploring fuel-cell technology -- a mini/micro-powered generator powered by liquid fuel. The supply of batteries of units in Iraqi Freedom were hard pressed, he said, for two reasons: the high temperatures drained them more quickly than expected and the very mobile nature of the operation meant more reliance on batteries over the generators normally in use from fixed locations.

"Batteries are heavy items to carry around the battlefield -- not only to keep them stocked and transported, but also the transportation requirements to dispose of them," Cuviello said. "That is why fuel-cell technology needs to be pushed very hard and fast."

Another lesson learned is a real requirement for a more mobile and smaller IT support footprint on the battlefield, Cuviello said. Antenna farms sprung up around major Army units in both Afghanistan and Iraq as different antennas were needed for each of six different satellite bands and four different types of radios in order to keep the communication links open between all service components and commanders in and out of theater. All those antennas sometimes caused co-site interference with each other, he said.

The science and technology community is researching multi-band antennas that may be shared with more than one radio or satellite link to alleviate that problem.

Cuviello said the Army got the right balance between military and commercial satellite use in Afghanistan. The commercial satellites used triple digital encryption to transmit mostly unclassified information, while the military satellites were used mostly for classified material, he said.

"With commercial satellites, you can turn it off or on as needed," Cuviello said. "You put up a military satellite with all the ground-based terminals and people that go with them -- you have got to run it, maintain it."

Afghanistan and Iraq also validated that the Army has strong partners in private industry, the general said.

In one instance, the Army was having chalenges in getting a radio transceiver-based system in place to track all friendly forces in a timely manner. Industry partners stepped in and within three months installed a satellite-based "Blue" force tracking system, Cuviello said.

In another instance, units earmarked for Iraq from the XVIII Airborne Corps, V Corps and III Corps, had different software versions of the Army Battle Command System, Cuviello said, as each were at different points of the system's materiel lifecycle. That was fine for sharing information within each corps, but it did not work for sharing across the theater. Industry again stepped in and quickly fixed the problem by integrating all to a common version, he said.

The general then asked the IT professionals present to become missionaries in working toward an information-dominant future force where:

Everyone in the Army, soldiers or civilians, in 20XX (xx being date to be determined) will be constantly plugged into one global Army net -- each with their own handheld wireless computer, on and off the battlefield. That Army Knowledge Enterprise net should be used as a single virtual system for tactical and non-tactical use such as finance or travel, Cuviello said.

All fixed locations should be wired for that single network with fiber-optic cable. Military satellites will be laser-backbone with a relay of networked satellites for the tactical environment, he said.

All leaders must have a firm grasp of managing and using IT, Cuviello said.

Almost all meetings should be held online, he said. Seventy-five percent of the civilian workforce may telecommute out of virtual home offices three days a week and 30 percent will work always from home.

All military and civilian recruiting will be done online, he said, to include digitally signed contracts or job offers to seal the deal.

Accessing military installations, workplaces and computer systems will be via a Department of Defense biometric capability, such as fingerprint, iris scan, voice recognition or facial recognition, he said.

"All these great ideas are only power-point (briefing slides) until we get them out there on the ground -- not just to one or two units -- but to every unit," Cuviello said.