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Despite advances, air strikes fall short of expectations.

NORFOLK, Va. -- The Joint Forces Command will launch a demonstration program this year to improve communications between the armed services and the intelligence communities. The goal is to decrease the time it takes to put bombs on elusive terrorist targets.

Pushing this program forward is the recognition that, despite enormous advances in technology, recent air campaigns have failed to score high-profile victories.

The command has identified 48 "communities of interest," composed of stakeholders who will tackle the problem of computers and communication systems that collect data, but cannot communicate with each other. The push to create a more "network-centric" ways to communicate has been a long-time goal in the Defense Department. The point-to-point means currently used stymies communication and prevents data from making its way into the hands of those who need it, officials have said.

The groups will identify their data sharing problems, determine what kind of information needs to be exchanged, and make it usable and accessible on web-based applications, said Leslie Winters, chief of net-centric information integration at JFCOM.

The "time-sensitive targeting" community will be the first to carry out a demonstration. Participants will be from any program that collects data on potential targets, as well as those tasked with delivering munitions, including the intelligence community. The ability to identify a target, and ensure that its location is accurately communicated to a shooter is a pressing need, said Rob Beardsworth, lead of the time-sensitive targeting community of interest at JFCOM.

"Today we have a different challenge," Beardsworth said at the NDIA net-centric operations conference. "We do not have well defined, well positioned targets. We have a very elusive, fleeting enemy including weapons of mass destruction, as well as terrorists."

In the war on terrorism, and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the Air Force is tasked with placing bombs on targets that may be on the move. In previous conflicts, it took days, and sometimes weeks between the identification of a target and the launch of an attack.

Pentagon officials have said that time-lag is decreasing. However, campaigns to take out Osama bin Laden, former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and senior Iraqi leaders mostly failed.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," was one such Iraqi target. Coalition officials initially claimed the general had been killed in an air strike in April 2003, but he was apprehended unharmed four months later in northern Iraq. Most of the senior Iraqi leaders targeted in the opening weeks of the conflict, including Saddam Hussein, his two sons Uday and Qusay, were killed or captured by ground forces.

While JFCOM officials did not say publicly that time-sensitive targeting was chosen first because of the high-profile failures, an Air Force officer, who asked not to be named, confirmed that the issue is being debated in the service. Senior leadership has moved away from the "sensor-decider-shooter" model of targeting. Traditionally, the order to drop bombs on "high-value targets" required the approval of senior decision makers. Gaining their permission often slowed down the process, the officer said.

"It could take weeks, and then you'd shoot. What we're trying to do now is flip flop, and go decider-sensor-shooter."

Some terrorists will be on a shortlist. If U.S. sensor operators identify a time-sensitive target, they have the authority to eliminate the "decider" from the bureaucracy, and proceed to the "shoot mode," the officer said. "We had to fix that sensor-decider-shooter model because it was not working," the officer said.

The Air Force will be the lead service organizing the time-sensitive targeting community, which includes the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office. The Central Intelligence Agency may join as well, Beardsworth said.

The demonstration program will aim to make data available to anybody who needs it, including soldiers in the field with pocket PCs or laptops with a satellite link, Beardsworth said. Target lists, reconnaissance and surveillance photos, and data spreadsheets should all be made available. Putting bombs on targets quickly requires the orchestration of an immense amount of data in a short time frame, he added.

Anyone with a computer terminal hooked into the Defense Department computer system should be able to download the information with "no new baggage required," Beardsworth said.

The pilot program will not "go away" after the experiment ends, he added. The capabilities should remain in place after the demonstration is completed.

The idea, Winters said, is to let the communities of interest come up with their own solutions rather that follow orders from the top. There won't be a "big bang" solution to the interoperability issues, or rewriting of computer code. The pilot program will take nine to 12 months, and the Joint Forces Command will provide technical support, she said.

The second community to launch a pilot program will be blue force (friendly force) tracking and will be lead by the Army, one of the users of this technology. Joint task force command and control will be the third demonstration, but no lead service has been named for that group yet, Winters said. Joint close-air support, joint air and missile defense and joint ground maneuver are examples of other communities of interest.

Beardsworth said there will be several challenges, including the reluctance of some program mangers to participate due to the perception that the effort will require additional funding. "It's been a slight deterrent to involvement," he said.

The traditional roadblocks to interoperability will also have to be overcome, and these are both technical and cultural, JFCOM officials said. There are several legacy systems, for example, that require user passwords to be changed every two weeks.

Then there are the traditional turf wars and the reluctance to share classified information.

"Data interoperability is needed now," Winters said. "We can't wait five or 10 years for the solution."
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Title Annotation:UPFRONT
Author:Magnuson, Stew
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:960
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