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Information Access Key in Terror War, CENTCOM General Says
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2005 – The war on terror is proving to be an information war, with forces demanding and getting more access to information than in any previous conflict, U.S. Central Command’s director of command, control, communications and computer systems told the American Forces Press Service.

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Foley said operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are putting unprecedented demands on secure information networks as the paradigm for information access moves from “need to know” to “need to share.”

“Rather than these stovepipe, close-knit operations where we don’t want to tell anybody anything, we have migrated over the course of the last two years to need to share,” Foley said.

Making more information available to more people enhances situational awareness theater-wide, he said, giving troops the tools they need to operate more effectively.

“The need for information has increased dramatically” since the conflict transformed from conventional offensive combat operations to counterinsurgency operations, Foley said. “And what do you need to enable you to do that?” the general asked rhetorically. “You need to know where the bad guys are while they are there.”

The need for quick, actionable intelligence has created “a tremendous thirst for bandwidth that is required in order to get them that information,” Foley said.

As a result, the military has extended voice- and data-communications capabilities, generally available in past operations only to the brigade level, down to the battalion levels. The goal, Foley said, is to give equal access to information to everyone with a need for it. He noted that in an environment such as Iraq, that’s just about everyone.

“The battalion commander on the ground in Tikrit is just as informed of the threat and where the bad guys are and where the safe avenues are as the brigade commander, as the division commander,” Foley said. “We haven’t achieved all of that yet, … but we are doing better today than ever before.”

While providing increased access to information and intelligence, the military is also promoting more information sharing through everything from video teleconferencing to e-mail to Web-based programs, he said.

In addition, military chat rooms have increased situational awareness throughout the theater, Foley said. “People who go out on patrols can enter a chat room and let everyone know what they saw. There might be a lucrative target out there, whether a truck or car or group of people or a building or something else. And chat rooms help effectively coordinate the time-sensitive targeting process.”

Unmanned aerial vehicles provide another valuable information asset, but only if the information gathered is disseminated quickly to those who need it.

“It’s helping the forces on the ground, but only as long as we can get that information they are taking and get it down to the guys and gals who need it on the ground who can assess it, analyze it and disseminate the information quickly so they guys on the ground can act on it,” Foley said.

In addition to promoting information sharing among U.S. troops, Foley said, the military is sharing more information with its coalition partners than ever before, using a new system called Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System, or simply CENTRIX. The Multinational Coalition Forces Iraq version of the system, which supports operations in Iraq, currently has about 20,000 subscribers from more than 60 countries.

“It’s one of the most monumental success stories in the history of joint and coalition warfighting,” Foley said.

Supporting the military’s information needs will become increasingly challenging in the future as the demand for bandwidth increases, Foley said. “Our challenge in the communications community is that everyone wants more, but there isn’t always going to be more,” he said.

Already, the demand for ultra-high frequency spectrum access far exceeds what the Defense Department is capable of providing, he said. Programs are under way to maximize existing bandwidth while exploring new satellite initiatives and ways to tap into new portions of the frequency spectrum.

As these efforts continue, Foley said, Operation Iraqi Freedom is offering valuable lessons about the benefits of information sharing and laying important groundwork in ensuring maximum access to warfighters. “The lessons we are learning in Operation Iraqi Freedom are helping shape the future,” he said.