Gen. Cartwright: Information Overload Remains a Tough Problem for DoD

By Eric Beidel
At one point during the second Gulf War, marines and soldiers stationed in southern Iraq kept out of each other’s lines of fire thanks to a river running north and south that separated them.
They were lucky, said Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Because of proprietary software, their radios wouldn’t talk to each other.
On today’s battlefield, the rapid movement of information is as important as the transportation of fuel or water. But there are many challenges to moving the increasing amounts of data from platform to platform, and part of the problem lies in restricted software and hardware, the general told industry executives July 19 at the FOSE information-technology exposition and conference in Washington, D.C.
“We buy proprietary, we don’t understand what it is we’re buying into, it works great for an application but then you come to the conflict and you spend the rest of your time trying to modify it to actually do what it should do,” Cartwright said.
The modifications are costly. “If you want to open up the operational flight software in an airplane, think something along the lines of five years and $300 million just to open it up and close it, independent of what you want to do to improve it,” the general said.
The Defense Department is working towards a command and control structure on platforms where any sensor can work with any weapon. The military has to “mix and match for the problems you actually face, not the problem somebody dreamed up 15 years ago,” Cartwright said.
The problem is complicated by the massive amounts of data generated in war these days. Lasers and full-motion video are producing more data than troops and their commanders have ever had access to before. Two terabyte hard drives are no longer enough for the battlefield, Cartwright said.
“It’s almost free to buy processing power and storage,” he said. “It’s moving it, using it, analyzing it, finding competitive advantage in it in ways that nobody else has that really is the cutting edge out there that makes the difference between living and dying.”
The military hasn’t figured out how to streamline the collection, dissemination and analysis of data without overloading its platforms or breaking the bank. “We’re still trying to build all of the information gathering and all of the information command and control and the integration with the weapons onto single platforms unto themselves,” he said.
The military must complete these tasks in a manner similar to advancements with the Predator drone, said Cartwright. In three years, the Predator went from commercial standards of analog to digital to high-definition video. The changes have improved the military’s ability to process information, Cartwright said.
The speed at which data travels back and forth to the front lines also must improve, because perfect information arriving late is useless, he said.
“You have to make the decision in the time of execution. You cannot say, ‘Could you hold up for a minute and not launch that RPG at me? I want to study this issue for a while. I got a staff here, they’ll work it through. And then I’ll decide to dodge left or dodge right.’”

Topics: C4ISR, Sensors, Defense Department, Infotech, Infotech, Architecture, Open Technology

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