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C4ISR -- On the Road Toward Perfect Knowledge

Remarks to the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Summit, Danvers, Mass., August 21, 2003 by Dr. James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force.

Thank you for that warm welcome and introduction Bill [Lieutenant General William Looney, Commander, Electronic Systems Center).

I am excited to see so many people here discussing ways we can leverage the power of information to adapt and enhance the ways we fight. I regret that I was unable to attend the earlier panels, but I do know that the discussions were ably led by three of our C4ISR gurus at the Pentagon -- Major General Charlie Croom (Director of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Infostructure), Brigadier General Dan Goodrich (Director for Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Integration), and Brigadier General-select Michael Snodgrass (Deputy Director of Operational Requirements) . I look forward to seeing the papers by those mavens, as well as that of the industry panel led by Mr. Terry Drabant [Lockheed Martin]. Now, on a daily basis, paper -- as those Blackberry fans among us today know -- is no longer the preferred medium for communication.

Data, when properly collected, fused, evaluated and disseminated, dramatically enhance the battlefield effects of our kinetic weapons. As you've heard from the panelists, increasingly C4ISR requires a different thought process as we imagine the potential of a network connecting sensors and shooters and decision makers, and the power that comes from controlling the flow of information.

It seems fitting that we should be discussing what many might consider "black magic" in Danvers, formerly known as the village of Salem. In the old days, they hanged witches or anyone who seemed to be able to exert power without physical force. Today we're not here to reenact Arthur Miller's "Crucible" or hang the practitioners of this black magic -- so, you can relax, Tunes -- but to celebrate, congratulate, and encourage them and to find ways of doing even more.

  • The Vision

I want to take a few moments to discuss why harnessing the power of C4ISR is so important and to explore what it can bring to the warfighter.

I've spoken often of Robert's Ridge in Afghanistan from the perspective of the heroes engaged in the battle on the ground. Today I want you to consider the situation from the perspective of the air and space battle.

Imagine if you will the battle from the perspective of the Forward Air Controller (FAC) -- seven or eight different orbits of Air Force, Navy and Marine aircraft, including B-1s stacked at all sorts of altitudes, each aircraft with its own fuel states, armament packages and capabilities -- and the status and position of each communicated to our controller solely by radio. Consider the amount of gray matter expended simply in translating orally communicated information into a multidimensional picture of the air situation -- a picture that changes with each passing second -- and then positioning that picture in relationship to the ground battle, which is also changing with time. It is a wonder that anyone required to juggle all that information is able to do anything else, let alone plan the next series of moves to achieve victory on the battlefield -- and sometimes engage in close order battle.

Now imagine if we had a single network, one that supplied data efficiently across land, space, and air. And, if those data shared a common language, we could pass them from machine-to-machine and they could be fused into multi-source, secure information in near real time. And we could capture all of that information in a single display that is updated by the aircraft themselves. This display could provide a three dimensional picture of the battlespace as it changes with time.

Imagine as well that each FAC could click on an icon on the display to reveal the pertinent information about each aircraft -- location, time overhead, fuel state, weapons available, other capabilities and damage status -- anything you would want to know about the aircraft and its relation to the battle. All the information the FAC would need to know, available at the touch of a mouse. The FAC would then be free to focus his concentration on executing the fight.

And imagine if we could provide the CAOC with tools which could take all this information and display a stochastic picture of what will happen next. Modeling tools that could apply what we know about the weather, the geography, the leadership culture, the forces, the weapons systems, all the other variables of a combat situation, and formulate probability distributions of the battlespace. Tools that could provide a dispassionate assessment of the situation that could then provide predictive battlespace awareness. If we could provide the CAOC that information, we could concentrate forces at the appropriate time and place, implementing the next move required to deliver the effects needed when we choose, or when our ground colleagues need them Just think of how much more informed our decisions could be if we had such tools!

Today we ask that most of our warriors rely only on their own innate ability to keep situation awareness and calculate quickly to try to cope with the future of the battle. Tomorrow, we should provide almost perfect information so we can focus our efforts on making the decisions necessary to move the battle forward.

Just as we recently lightened the backpacks of the special operations forces and our ground units, and have dramatically improved the technology available to our airmen controlling close air support, we need to lighten the mental baggage packs of those who prosecute the war. We need to create a future world in which information is made available and delivered without regard to the source of the information, who has analyzed the information, or who has disseminated the information. It is the end product that is important, not the fingers that touch it. As my partner General John Jumper is fond of saying, the culmination of the effort is the cross hairs on the target.

What we're talking about is information collection, analysis, assurance, management, manipulation, integration, fusion, dissemination and action. That's quite a string of words, but that's really what C4ISR is -- it's not just intelligence, but all the things we do for information, to information, and with information. It's been a persistent annoyance of General Jumper's and mine that the discussion of Space and C4ISR CONOPS requires the listing of each stovepipe -- space, command and control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance -- in a period during which we are trying to break down stovepipes. But we can't reduce the concept to just one word of the seven, since that risks misrepresenting the total effort.

But it's not just the information that matters, but getting quality, fused, actionable information to the people and machines that can use it. All the information in the world is useless unless it can inform timely decisions. We must preserve and enhance our ability to get and use quality, timely, actionable information to shorten the kill chain -- and put steel on target -- while denying the adversary the chance to use theirs.

The term "information age" was overused a few years ago, but it is truer today than it was then -- this is the age of information -- those who control the flow of information control not only the battle but also the war. What we must strive for is actionable information, not just data, but processed information. And we must seek information not just of the present but also of the future, so we can predict what effects will result when we exercise our capabilities.

There are many, many scenarios in which an improved, predictive information picture, carried across a network that crosses ground, space, and air can benefit warfighters and all those who support them in the field. It's not just the battlefield commanders who would benefit. Everyone could: soldiers and Marines on the ground, special operators, airmen in flight, all could benefit from an information operating environment in which warriors who need reliable, actionable information are provided it.

  • Progress to date

We have made some progress -- we have made substantial gains in communicating information through the Global Information Grid (GIG). And we'll soon greatly improve our bandwidth capability through space with the launches of the Wideband Gapfiller Satellite in 2005 and the Advanced EHF satellite in 2006. And, eventually, we will deploy Transformational Comm, which should vastly expand the bandwidth pipelines by using laser communications technology.

We've made headway on machine-to-machine connectivity too -- we should have a small-scale horizontal integration capability as soon as 2006 -- but we need to be able to continue to build on that and create a scalable system that can support operations across the spectrum of conflict.

We still have a lot of work to do -- we need to develop protocols for machines-to-machine interfaces. We need to evaluate the systems we have or will have to determine what they can contribute to our capabilities, and what tools we need to transform those systems from a collection of platforms into a networked system that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

We recently demonstrated the incredible effects that integration can have on the battlefield. Weapons conceived in the 1970s and 1980s, and fielded in the 1990s, now are having a revolutionary effect on combat. A variety of joint systems and precise weapons, aircraft like the Joint STARS, remotely piloted aircraft, UAVs, a generation of space assets, and the ability to integrate them all proved decisive in Iraq.

Our ground forces moved more swiftly and further than virtually at any time in our history, and our air-ground coordination was similar to the historic cooperation demonstrated by Generals Arnold and Patton in their famous breakout of Normandy, and Patton's race across France in 1944 -- a goal that General Jumper and I have shared for the last two years, to return to the relationships and capabilities of that era. And General Pete Quesada of the 9th Air Force in 1944 would be proud indeed of how Generals Moseley (Commander, 9th Air Force, and the Combined Forces Air Component Commander) and McKiernan (Commander, Third U.S. Army, and the Coalition Forces Land Component Commander) worked together.

During the entire campaign, the Iraqi Air Force did not fly a single sortie against coalition forces. This is air and space dominance to the max! It is what we pledged to deliver to our combatant commanders and to our nation, and, our airmen performed magnificently -- not just the Air Force, but the entire coalition Air Force.

In a broader sense, we've also learned the American way of war has undergone a remarkable evolution in terms of how we command and control warfare, with respect to the speed and range with which we can deliver decisive effects, and, with respect to the global information dominance that enables our nation to see first, understand first, and act first. Years of development of integrated systems and the professional training of airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines in their application were on display for the world to see and, by all accounts, the results were simply unprecedented.

Since the advent of industrial warfare, one would be hard pressed to cite an example of greater speed, maneuver, and precision on the battlefield, all while simultaneously limiting collateral damage, delivering humanitarian aid, and saving the lives of combatants and civilians alike. This is a new age of warfare -- and you can be justifiably proud of the role you, your fellow airmen, and our industry partners have played in making it possible.

Our first Chief of Warfighting Integration, Lieutenant General Leslie Kenne, did a magnificent job in bringing a big picture, systems engineering perspective to C4ISR, and shifting the multiple perspectives of separate stovepipes into the focused perspective of an integrator. She has started us through the cultural shift required to consider the composite C4ISR efforts as a web of information actions that touch all elements of warfighting. And, I am confident that her good work will be carried forward by her successor, Lieutenant General Tom Hobbins!

What we're doing is not new in and of itself -- gathering and processing information is not new, using that information to assess where to deliver desired effects is not new, nor is using that information to predict the battlespace new. What is new is pulling all the pieces together with a robust, protected network infrastructure that encompasses all levels of the battle and allows machines to do the integration and fusion.

What is also new is how we think about war -- shifting from a focus of killing some number of tanks or airfields or plants to determining the effects we want, to picking the precise targets necessary to achieve the desired effects. The emphasis is on quality, not quantity, of targets attacked.

We have been shifting toward this perspective as our weapons have achieved greater accuracy. Consider what we can achieve if we combine detailed knowledge of the situation, and the way to achieve effects we need, with the pinpoint accuracy of our weapons. Our ability to deliver the needed capabilities precisely where they can cause the greatest impact would increase exponentially.

This requires not only thinking of effects-based operations as a way to focus our capabilities on their best employment, but also leveraging the predictions made by PBA to determine what will happen when, for example, a particular bridge is gone? How will the enemy respond? And what will be his likely move, two, three moves from now? We should be able to manage the perennial Clausewitzian problems -- the fog and friction of war -- better than ever before with these tools, but it's still there.

  • Industry Involvement

Not only do we need to shift how we think as warfighters about information actions, we also need to start thinking and acting like commercial industry in our acquisition and development of information infrastructure systems. We need to think of C4ISR systems as Information Technology (IT) systems, rather than the rigid weapons systems models we've used before.

As an example, when we started the Theater Battle Management Core System, we started thinking of it as if it were just another weapon system. The TBMCS is the "engine of the AOC." It brings together maintenance operations, munitions, and other information into the system allowing the wing or unit level commander to know what assets are available to execute the ATO. So we started as we usually do. We developed requirements, we let a contract with a noted defense contractor -- and then we floundered.

It wasn't until we brought in an IT firm that the process really started moving, because this is an IT system. Most of our C4ISR problems, and the connectivity we need, are IT problems. Information operations are not like the kinds of operations we're used to conducting -- we can't necessarily put steel on target to effect change. This is just one example of what transformation is about -- learning how to work in a new medium, the digital medium, to bend the adversary to our will. And it will require new ways of thinking both on the part of the government and our industry partners.

Certainly one element will be to strengthen partnerships between the government and industry -- involving industry early in the plan to flesh out capabilities, and to explain our needs early in the process.

We also have to build our partnership in terms of shared responsibility. We cannot achieve our C4ISR vision if we continue to operate in the tangle of proprietary data and specialized systems built only for specialized purposes that will not interface with other systems or networks.

It is your job, as well as mine, to ensure that your systems can link into the network we all use.

It is your job, as well as mine, to build systems using a language that is common to what is already on the network, or develop the necessary interface tools.

And, it is your job, as well as mine, to ensure that your products will operate on the network.

We must satisfy these basic requirements to achieve a useable network that enables the massive sharing and processing of data that our effects based operations and our predictive battlespace awareness, our new ways of waging war, require. Our products must be interoperable with our sister services at a minimum since, as we have in the past, we will continue to go forward as a joint force. We will not fight alone. We owe it to our fellow warriors to accomplish this element of transformation -- and with the talent we have in this room, I'm confident we will.

  • The Pay-off

There are troops, standing, riding, or walking into harm's way as I speak. With all our brains, with all our technology, what are we doing this week to ensure that each trooper finishes his or her patrol or duty safely? Why is that patrol alone? Where are we? Why are we not taking this phase of war as seriously as our troopers? Where is the Predictive Battlespace Analysis for that patrol? Where are eyes around the corner? Where are the eyes watching our troopers' six? Why aren't we figuratively "by those troopers side"? The war is not over; it's just in another phase.

John and I created Project "Eyes" in our Air Force under General Ron Keys (Deputy Chief of Staff for Air and Space Operations) as a way to try to pull together all of our ideas and technology which might be useable for the troops on the ground. It's very embryonic; and, regrettably, there are no silver bullets. We are determined, however, that our troopers will not long walk alone. I challenge you to help. The ideas you have explored at this summit and, more important, the plans to make those ideas reality will bring us a long way toward meeting the needs of those troops and others like them. Don't forget them when you leave here today.

It's been a pleasure to speak with you today and to share my enthusiasm for the contributions you all bring to the fight. I look forward to hearing about great things the Air Force/industry teams are bringing to the joint community. Who knows? I may be hearing about your work from another "professional perspective" next time I meet with you. Many thanks for your efforts here at the summit and in preparation for it. I look forward to reading the panels' papers. Best of luck in your continued efforts. May God bless you, our Air Force, and the USA.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).