COMMENTARY

The network as a force multiplier

Modernization must take place despite constrained resources

Like a business traveler accustomed to expensing a steady diet of Ruth's Chris steaks slathered with blue cheese, the U.S. military has grown accustomed to procurement budgets of more than $100 billion as it has waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But just as the business world faces times of austerity, the Defense Department also must be more watchful about how it spends taxpayers' money.

Defense Secetary Robert Gates put it bluntly. "We must be mindful of the difficult economic and fiscal situation facing our nation," he said recently. The military can't expect elected officials to keep approving a military budget that has grown 78 percent from fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2009 — including supplemental war funding — and has remained at about $700 million for the past three years. With so many Americans without jobs, let alone generous expense accounts, it's a matter of principle and political reality.

DOD's real challenge, though, is to bring fiscal responsibility to procurement while continuing efforts to modernize its forces with the latest technology. The cuts have already begun with the planned elimination of one major command, the Joint Forces Command, and the announced trimming of general and flag officer ranks by 150 slots. 

Those reductions will save some tens of millions of dollars, but cuts to infrastructure do nothing for modernization, let alone improve situational awareness for soldiers and Marines at the tactical edge.

So how does the military cut back and move forward? The answer can be found in four simple words: invest in the network. The network's ability to facilitate collaboration, collect and fuse intelligence, and flatten the organizational structure so there are fewer layers between the command centers and the tactical edge is what will bring true efficiency to U.S. forces and their allies. The network is already proving to be the true disruptive technology of our time.

Fortunately, Army leaders seem to understand that the tactical edge is all about enabling the network. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, a mechanized infantry officer with little network experience through most of his career, said so at the 2010 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition in late October.

"The network represents our No. 1 modernization effort," he said, specifically identifying the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical communications-on-the-move network, the Joint Tactical Radio System and the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team as keys to the realization of a tactical network.

They are also the keys to ensuring that combat troops can maintain full-spectrum capabilities out to the tactical edge — and do so in an environment of constrained resources. It's how the military can do more with less.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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