Academic journal article Military Review

A Look at Reachback

Academic journal article Military Review

A Look at Reachback

Article excerpt

AS PART OF THE ARMY's transformation, the evolving concept of reachback is frequently cited as both a force economizer and as an information multiplier. This article explores some of the issues that revolve around the use of reachback and offers a departure point for discussion on how reachback efforts can be best organized to support a deployed force.

Deploying rapidly often means taking fewer troops, especially from headquarters staffs. Simultaneously, evolving information and communication technologies are making physical distance irrelevant for data transfer. These two developments intersect in the evolving concept of reachback Reachback is envisioned as a way to reduce the number of staff officers deployed while providing enhanced information and tailored resources to the operational commander.

Reachback is the electronic ability to exploit organic and nonorganic resources, capabilities and expertise, which by design are not located in theater. Reachback enhances the operational agility of the deployed unit by improving its access to timely and relevant information. Additionally, it improves deployability by reducing the unit's in-theater footprint. Reachback as a tool is not new. Many organizations have employed out-of sight resources to support their operations. What is new is the widespread capability to harness these resources through emerging technologies.

Using informal or self directed reachback, de ployed units may contact out-of theater resources directly. This may be as simple as placing a telephone call or manually searching global Internet or defense Intranet web sites for required information. Programmed search engines can also comb the Internet based on established search criteria. Telemedicine, the ability of remote doctors to consult specialists electronically, is a striking example of self directed reachback. Soon many units will have the ability to conduct similar reachback through their organic information systems.

Formal reachback is more resource-intensive and involves third-party, out-of theater personnel. A deployed unit may identify an information requirement that cannot be met by in-theater resources or through informal reachback. The unit then contacts a central information resource, articulates its requirement and depends on the resource to research and provide an answer.

Making reachback more effective, whether it is self directed or more formal, requires addressing these issues:

* Where is the best source of information to answer the leader's question? The deployed staff must ensure it is using the best resources available, which requires understanding the capabilities and limitations of all available resources and assessing their value.

* Are we asking the right question? The deployed staff must understand the issue fully to form an effective query.

* How do we communicate with the resource? The best resource may not be available electronically. The staff must have several technologies for reachback to different resources.

* Did the resource answer the question? The deployed staff must be able to determine the thoroughness and accuracy of the information received.

* Is the answer in a usable format? Data comes in widely varying formats, media and file types. * Who else needs this information and how do we share it? Other units may need the same information and should have access to it.

* Is the information resource overwhelmed? The deployed staff must be able to articulate the urgency of its requirement, especially since other agencies may be seeking similar information from the same resource.

Many deployed units, streamlined to improve their deployability, may lack the expertise, resources and access to ensure their reachback efforts resolve these challenging issues. The creation of a nondeployed organization to provide reachback support to the deployed force will resolve these issues and provide added value to the reachback effort. …

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