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IT21—Moving to the 3rd Stage

By Admiral Archie Clemins, U.S. Navy

This is the philosophy behind Information Technology for the 21st Century, or IT-21. It is a paradigm shift in how we create, manage, and retrieve information-and it allows us to reengineer our processes, which is critical in this era of reduced budgets and geopolitical uncertainty.

IT-21 is a philosophy born not of the technology itself, but of the necessity to use that technology to do our business smarter and more effectively.

The Resource-Requirement Gap

In the Navy today, we are operating in a paradoxical time of increased need for our forces and decreased resources to support them. Over the past few years, naval forces have been called on to respond more frequently than ever before, in such places as Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, the Taiwan Strait, the Korean Peninsula, and the Persian Gulf.

There is no indication that this dichotomy will narrow. The end of the Cold War has ushered in a multi-polar world that is increasingly unpredictable, tasking our forces to carry out a variety of new and unconventional missions. Yet at the same time, there is broad bipartisan support for continued reductions in our overall size. As House Speaker Newt Gingrich commented at the opening of the 105th Congress, "It is time to shrink the Pentagon to a triangle; to apply the lessons of downsizing, and the lessons of the information age."

The challenge under the best conditions, therefore, is to do more as our resources remain constant.

There is no one solution to this problem; it will take a broad range of fundamental changes in the way we do business. We need to look for ways to do things smarter, to put aside conventional wisdom and seek innovative solutions, and to get the most out of every precious dollar that Congress gives us. In short, we must look for force multipliers. We must look for things that allow us to achieve a force capability that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Today, our force structure in the Pacific Fleet and in the Navy as a whole is about right. Regardless of the outcome of this year's Quadrennial Defense Review, the number of ships, submarines, and aircraft essentially must remain constant if we want to maintain our near-continuous global naval presence-providing "Preventive Defense," as former Defense Secretary William Perry characterized it. But it is important to emphasize that in the Navy, force level should not be equated with numbers of people. Personnel strength is critical when talking about Army divisions or Marine expeditionary forces; but for the Navy, force level is the number of ships, airplanes, and submarines.

The growing demand for naval forces will capitalize on the increased capability brought forward by Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class destroyers, the New Attack Submarine, the F/A-18E/F, and LPD-17. The number of people on those ships, airplanes, and submarines can decrease, as can the shore-based infrastructure that supports them, if we can leverage information technology and other force multipliers to make this possible.

Navy and DoD leadership already are doing much to make this come about. Truly revolutionary ideas such as the Smart Ship and joint strike fighter, outsourcing, reserve contributory support, and acquisition reform are being proposed and researched. The Defense Science Board's two Summer Studies, released earlier this year, go even further in advocating the radical reengineering of processes used in conducting military affairs. In the future, light forces will have expanded capabilities, will be supported by strong communications, and will use innovative command relationships where the lateral is at least as important as the vertical. At the same time, our support structure will be transformed to a competitive system where virtually all but the core warfighting and combat logistics functions are carried out by the private sector.

The common denominator and most important element in these studies, and in the other systems and concepts being developed today, is information technology.

The Road Map to IT-21

The concept of IT-21 has worldwide application, but its origins were more humble. It began as Seventh Fleet's Global Network Initiative, or GNI, and it enjoyed a resounding success on a micro basis in the Western Pacific during the U.S. Navy's response to the China-Taiwan situation of early 1996. Today, the lessons of GNI are being applied on a macro basis with IT-21.

The initial goal of IT-21 is to connect the Pacific Fleet, U.S. Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, joint task force commanders, other Pacific component commanders, the shore infrastructure, and the civilian support sector. The Atlantic Fleet and Fifth Fleet will follow quickly. Ultimately, all U.S. forces and even our allies will use IT-21. It will enable voice, video, and data transmissions from a single desktop PC, allowing the warfighter to exchange information that is classified or unclassified, and tactical or non-tactical.

To do this, we must build a system to industry standards, using commercial off-the-shelf technology, devoid of stovepipes, in a client-server environment that allows the "pull" of just what information is needed in a way that is seamless to the user in the field. There are seven absolute precepts that must be followed to ensure that IT-21 is implemented correctly. These could be labeled the "Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Fleet Information Technology System."

If the boss doesn't use it, don't buy it. If those in command do not use this new technology-and do not insist that their subordinates use it as well-then our people will be left with useless paperweights on their desks. Bosses must be leaders in the implementation of new technology, and "hands-on" in using this technology, lest they become the ones to hold their organizations back.

Similarly, designers and purchasers must ensure that the leadership is completely sold on plans for information management before precious dollars are spent.

We must integrate the tactical and non-tactical. Maintaining the current status quo of having separate workstations and networks for tactical and non-tactical uses is unreliable, unnecessarily burdensome, and unaffordable. With IT21, there is one system that enables units to conduct tactical business-such as sharing operational pictures, browsing intelligence products, and planning collaboratively-with non-tactical business-such as logistics, personnel, training, medical, and supply. We must be able to fight and run the ship from a single PC-based system.

We must stay common with industry . There are three reasons for this: time, money, and ease of use. We will save valuable time in inserting new technology by staying with industry standards, because development today is being driven at a speed that the military simply cannot match. In addition, by taking advantage of new hardware and software products whose research and development has been paid for by industry, we will avoid considerable costs.

Staying common with industry also saves on training and troubleshooting. With "help" keys, vendor web sites, books, and training videos, industry products come with extensive support-and our people are more familiar with them. In short, staying common with industry standards is the best way to ensure that we stay on the cutting edge of technology, while providing a system that is user-friendly for our people.

We must drive everything to a single PC . All of our applications must be connected to a Windows-based PC in a client-server environment, using off-the-shelf software, such as Microsoft Office. The only exception is in very rare cases where there is a compelling reason to use a high-end UNIX workstation.

Going to a single PC does not mean abandoning the Joint Maritime Command Information System or the Global Command-and-Control System. On the contrary, our efforts toward one command-and-control system are necessary to force integration. But driving the users of these systems to PCs empowers individual warfighters as never before with an array of detection, targeting, operational, and logistics information from joint sources and satellites delivered to a single point.

We must use commercial off-the-shelf products (COTS) for almost everything we do . With today's commercial technology, there is little that cannot be accomplished with a good office suite and e-mail package running in a client-server environment. In addition, COTS guarantees us interoperability with the commercial sector, which will become increasingly critical as we outsource more and more of our support functions.

Not only must we use COTS, but we also must change the way we purchase it. The antiquated acquisition procedures of today, with long lag times, mountains of paperwork, and needless Life Cycle Management, must be abandoned for a system that works better. We must change the way we look at computers, treating them not as physical plant property, but as consumables-just like copier paper.

We must have seamless transition from shore to sea . A ship in port at San Diego, plugged via a fiber-optic connection on the pier to the Metropolitan Area Network, must be able to get under way and switch to satellite in a way that is completely transparent to the user. The process should be as seamless as switching from shore power to ship's power, and as easy as roaming on a cellular phone as the ship moves around the world.

Similarly, Marines embarking on Navy amphibious ships must be able to plug and play with laptops in the ship's "green" spaces when they come on board, and continue communicating seamlessly when they move ashore. By giving troops on the beach instant access to supporting arms and control agencies, ground forces can be smaller, yet more lethal.

We cannot allow stovepipes to develop within our C41 architecture . We must buy icons, not hardware. Many dollars have been spent and largely wasted by developing stovepipe communications for one segment or another of our armed forces to talk to itself. Though well-intentioned, this has created a labyrinth of different protocols, software, and hardware that fill our ships' spaces, unnecessarily burden our users and our technicians, and prevent us from staying on the cutting edge as new technologies emerge.

Every sailor, Marine, soldier, airman, and civilian in our armed forces must get on board with IT-21 for it to work. Supply, medical, intelligence, maintenance, operations, personnel, and the many other stakeholders must embrace this method of open-architecture communications. Eliminating stovepipes and going to a single system will pay healthy dividends for all.

The IT-21 Plan: LANs, MANs, and WANs

IT-21 will be supported by backbones at multiple levels. Local Area Networks will connect PCs for all ships and shore commands, while Metropolitan Area Networks will connect all commands together within our fleet concentration areas. Afloat battle groups, amphibious ready groups, and forces ashore will be tied together via satellite communications forming one large Wide Area Network backbone.

By the year 2000, all ships-including even the smallest afloat combatants-will be equipped with the capability to be tied together in a wide area tactical network, providing a common tactical picture in an e-mail-based messaging system. The net result is that when our forces deploy, they will maintain continuous, seamless connectivity as they move from the continental United States to the Western Pacific, Mediterranean Sea, or Arabian Gulf, and as they operate with joint or coalition forces.

There will be sufficient money to do this, but there will not be enough money to do it twice. It must be done right the first time. Though the short-term outlay may be high, long-term costs will be greatly reduced as other stovepipe systems are eliminated.

The Payoff: Process Reengineering

IT-21 is not an end in itself; it is the means whereby we can change the processes of everything we do. At the very least, it will save resources that will more than pay for the technology; but more likely it will provide significantly more capability for the same resources invested. By leveraging information technology to reengineer the way we go about our daily business, we will avoid significant costs as we are able to cut back on the number of people, increase our efficiency, and become better stewards of our resources.

With IT-21, we will transform the way we operate. No longer will exercise events need to be coordinated days in advance between staffs and ships via Autodin messages. With desktop-to-desktop e-mail with file attachments, the speed at which events can be coordinated or changed can be reduced drastically, more training can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time, and valuable steaming days can be saved.

No longer will the commander's evening intentions message be a laborious drill of deciphering and deconflicting. Rather, a commander will coordinate with all units by video teleconference, using face-to-face communications, real-time exchange of graphics, and instantaneous deconflicting of problems.

No longer will ships receive hundreds of pages of general operational plans, operational taskings, schedules of events, flight schedules, and updates over Autodin, unnecessarily clogging our lines of communication. Using browser technology, commanders and their staffs instead will "pull" only the information they need-and will make more effective decisions because of it.

No longer will precious dollars be wasted in trying to give afloat and deployed units strong logistics support. Instead, support personnel ashore will browse parts availability on other units and shore facilities, browse logistics flight schedules, and ultimately make smarter decisions on how to get repair parts to the fleet expeditiously, saving money and reducing the stockpile of parts we need to keep on hand.

No longer will ships get under way with a small army of personnel men and disbursing clerks, carrying reams of paper in service, pay, and medical records. This unnecessary ballast will be put into relational data bases ashore, where it can be accessed and browsed electronically by users afloat.

This is the system we envision. IT-21 provides the means whereby a warfighter can make better-informed decisions, allocate forces more effectively, and provide a greater response in time of need. It provides the means whereby a sailor on board ship can troubleshoot a piece of equipment, track parts, browse the current operations summary, tend to personnel and disbursing matters, and even send an e-mail home-all from a single PC. It provides the means to use fewer people to accomplish more. In short, information technology provides us with an enormous force multiplier.

The stakes are quite high. Without a strong and common system of information technology, our armed forces will be left to founder in the ways of the past, never able to bridge the gap between demand for forces and the resources to support them. With it, they will be empowered with information, and will be ready to face the new challenges of the 21st century.

The third phase of the information age is upon us. It is time to take the existing tools of technology and apply them in bold new ways.

 

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