Academic journal article McNair Papers

Interoperability: A Desert Storm Case Study

Academic journal article McNair Papers

Interoperability: A Desert Storm Case Study

Article excerpt

The ultimate goal is simple: give the battlefield commander access to all the information needed to win the war. And give it to him when he wants it and how he wants it.

GENERAL COLIN L. POWELL (1)

1 Interoperability

General Powell's ambitious vision statement, in July 1992, heralded a new era for interoperability: an era of budget cuts, multinational services, and public clamor for congressional efficiency. At the same time, specialized, regionally based conflicts took the place of vast ocean and huge land-mass battlefields.

Interoperability has many facets. Its definition encompasses two radios talking to each other, an Ocean Venture exercise, hardware and software matching, and cross-service training. It is "equipment, procedures, doctrine, and training" and "the ability of people, organizations, and equipment to operate together effectively." (2)

During the Storm

Desert Storm typified the new era with its successful melding of many units from many services and many countries. But a lack of interoperability caused enough tactical problems to give any seasoned observer pause. "Communications for artillery fire support were a particular problem because the (radio) equipment lacked sufficient range or frequencies," according to one Marine General. Some platoon leaders could not talk on the radio to squad leaders "a mere 75 feet away," (3) said one Army battalion Commander. These problems were part of a broader category including hardware and software systems, functions, and processes, all comprising an element of [C.sup.4]I system's interoperability, or the compatibility of communications hardware, as formulated by Dr. Stuart Starr (see below). Policy decisions on role assignments were to blame for other interoperability breakdowns. The Gulf anti-air warfare ships, for example, could not exchange data directly with the on-station E-3As (airborne warning and control systems) assigned to cover the land-related portion of the Kuwaiti theater. In contrast, the Gulf-based ships received airborne early-warning data from shore-based Marine Corps tactical air operation and command centers. These circumstances hampered early detection and tracking efforts in that target-rich domain. (4) Admittedly, this illustration is more in the domain of Command and Control wherein a Commander "assigns forces in the accomplishment of a mission." But whenever time is a factor, interoperability is, too.

In a similar sense, problems of operating procedure were associated with the Air Tasking Order (ATO). The Gulf ATO was an intricate, computerized, daily list of all air assets in a Joint Task Force (JTF) environment (see Appendix A for a facsimile). From the ATO, strike mission planners could obtain information about numbers of missions, squadrons assigned, targets, restricted operating zones, low-level transit routes, drop/landing/extraction zones, and air refueling areas. It did not specify tactics or flight plans.

During Desert Storm ATO was an unusually effective system yet not without imperfections. From one Naval officer's vantage point, while the Air Force considers the ATO "the playbook for the vastly successful Air Bowl ...

   We in the surface Navy, from our more parochial perspective,
   remember it simply as the 300-page, 'Personal For,'
   flash-precedence, randomly sorted message, rarely received before
   the middle of the day to which it applied. The sheer bulk of
   the document implies that the Air Force--whose own composers
   designed it--expected a lot more people around who could
   make sense of it. The JFACC's (Joint Force Air Component
   Commander) six-pound Air Tasking Order had to be picked up
   in Riyadh at 0200, delivered to the carrier, and transferred to
   the surface ships (usually a three to four hour mission). The
   people who published this tome probably never envisioned that
   a couple of junior enlisted air controllers on a three-week
   caffeine high in the back of a combat information center would
   have to flip through this six-pound chunk of fanfold paper on
   their knees to find the whereabouts of a tanker for their combat
   air patrol. … 
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