If a cruise missile—fired from a ship or a submarine offshore—entered
U.S. airspace, national authorities would detect it, but would not
know where it came from.
Such a scenario was presented at a summer 2001 counter-terrorism
exercise conducted by the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).
One of the situations in the exercise, called Amalgam Virgo ‘01,
was the firing of a cruise missile from a nondescript merchant ship
in the Gulf of Mexico, into the U.S. mainland. Because cruise missiles
fly at low altitudes, NORAD would not be able to see them from beyond
The cruise-missile threat is just one example of the types of vulnerabilities
that could be solved if the Defense Department and the military
services had a real-time “single integrated picture”
of any given battle zone, concluded a study titled “Roadmap
to the Single Integrated Picture.”
The conclusion of the NORAD exercise was that “we are naked,”
said Stephen R. Woodall, the director of the study. “We have
no capability to deal with that kind of problem.”
A single integrated picture, or SIP, would give U.S. military forces
access to reliable information about ground, air, space or undersea
threats in any given theater of operations, including the continental
United States, said Woodall.
A SIP, he added, would improve homeland defense. “You need
a SIP around the United States.” NORAD can see every airplane
in the sky and every satellite in space, but that is “not
good enough for cruise missile defense.”
Thirty-five companies and 27 defense agencies participated in the
study, which was sponsored by the Strike, Land Attack and Air Defense
Committee of the National Defense Industrial Association.
Not having a SIP is not any one service’s fault, said Woodall.
“It’s a joint problem.” The SIP includes six domains:
undersea, surface, ground, air, space and cyberspace. “It’s
a set of synchronized, integrated databases,” he explained.
“Everyone would use a piece of it.”
The lack of interoperability between services and allied forces
has been debated for many years, but little progress has been achieved,
Woodall said. Many of the obstacles are more political than technical,
he added. “[Interoperability] is achievable, if the leadership
wants it to be achievable.”
As a Navy cruiser commanding officer during the Persian Gulf War,
Woodall saw first-hand how the lack of interoperability can hamper
military operations. “We had an unreliable surface picture,”
The upshot was that no Iraqi ships could be fired at, without first
visually identifying them. At night, an airplane would have to fly
out near the ship to identify it. After it was identified, several
more approvals were required from the chain of command. “By
the time I got permission, the airplane I was going to call in to
strike had run out of gas,” Woodall said. “That was
all because we didn’t have an acceptable surface picture.”
There was concern that U.S. ships would accidentally sink neutral
Iranian vessels in the area.
The availability of high-tech drones would make that operation
easier today, he said. “But you would still need to visually
A single integrated picture, as described in the study, currently
does not exist, Woodall said. “There are elements in various
stages of development.” It would take some forceful management
to “make people come together and do it,” Woodall said.
“There is a lot of bureaucratic resistance to move towards
One of the advocates of commonality at the Pentagon is Dr. Vitalij
Garber, director of interoperability. His office is promoting the
notion of a “family of interoperable operational pictures,”
a concept similar to the SIP.
The Joint Forces Command, meanwhile, is working on a research program
called CROP (common relevant operational picture), which, according
to Woodall, is another way of thinking about the SIP problem.
“There are people who might argue our concept is competing
with the CROP concept,” he said. “But, quite frankly,
we need as many smart people thinking about this problem as possible.”
Within the U.S. Navy, there is high-level support for the SIP,
said Woodall. The chief of naval operations commissioned a study
called Force Net, on the subject of network-centric warfare, a buzzword
that refers to the use of information as a weapon of warfare. The
work done in Force Net supplements the SIP effort, Woodall said.
He predicts that the Navy will take the lead role in moving the
SIP concept forward. “SIP is the foundation of network-centric
warfare,” he said.
A program does exist, however, to address the “air picture.”
The Defense Department created a joint program called SIAP (single
integrated air picture), led by Navy Capt. Jeff Wilson.
When the Defense Department introduced the so-called Joint Tactical
Information Distribution System, known as Link 16, many believed
that it would close the interoperability gaps in air combat. But
that did not happen, said Woodall. “Link 16 was going to be
our saving grace.” The reason it didn’t solve the problem
was because the services took the “same criteria for interoperability
and designed the systems in different ways, with different features,”
Woodall said. “That is what the SIAP office is trying to fix.”
Air-to-air missiles today, for example, are capable of hitting
targets beyond visual range, but U.S. pilots can’t take advantage
of that capability, because they have to visually ID their targets.
During the Korean War, ace fighter pilots reportedly could ID an
enemy Mig as far as 12 miles away. The most competent pilots today
often can ID targets five to 10 miles away.
“We buy capable, long-range weapons [but], because we don’t
have interoperability, we shoot [at targets] when we see the whites
of their eyes,” said Wilson, the director of the SIAP office.
During an NDIA conference last month, Wilson explained why he believed
that the SIAP should be a high priority at the Defense Department.
Having a single air picture, he said, would help prevent fratricide
and would expand the services’ capabilities to conduct air
Several industry officials at the conference said they had been
surprised to hear that Link 16 originally was not a mandatory component
in the Air Force F-22 next-generation fighter. After a review by
the Joint Forces Command, the Pentagon asked the Air Force to change
the operational requirement document, known as ORD.
The F-22 example helps illustrate the difficulties in developing
interoperable weapon systems, said Woodall.
Access to a single integrated air picture, potentially, could make
it easier for commanders to re-target bombs in flight. “We
can’t do that right now,” said Bob Rassa, chairman of
the Systems Engineering Committee of NDIA.
“Interoperability needs a strong focus at the senior level,”
he said. It also requires stronger ties between those who set the
requirements for weapon systems, the users and those responsible
for the development and acquisition.
The Pentagon’s procurement regulations were revised about
two years ago. Among the changes was a directive to factor interoperability
in weapon system acquisition programs. The problem with that policy,
said Rassa, is that it does not define what interoperability means
in enough detail, so the services lack clear guidance.