It was a decision that had to be made in a few tense hours: Should the U.S. launch the war on Iraq with an air attack aimed at Saddam Hussein and members of his inner circle? The U.S. military analyzed intelligence reports, programmed its munitions, and attacked on March 20. That first action demonstrated how critical well-integrated communications technology was to the process.
"There were a lot of new technologies out there, but in and of themselves, none of them was particularly dramatic," says John Hillen, senior vice president and director of the defense and intelligence group at American Management Systems (AMS), an IT consultancy in Fairfax, Va. "It was the stitching together of all of these things in real time and their integration into the operation … that allowed a very small force to essentially take down an entire country."
Communications technology leveraged by the military also brought individual members of today’s networked fighting force into close contact with the home front. "It's probably the first war where anyone on the front line could call home and say 'Mom, I'm all right,'" notes Pat Armstrong, director of satellite communication services at General Dynamics Decision Systems (GDDS) in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Putting the pieces together
Although the chief lesson of the war for corporate IT may be that a well-integrated communications system is greater than the sum of its parts, corporate buyers may find interest in a number of packaged systems and communications devices that played a role in Iraq in military, medical, and humanitarian efforts.
U.S.-led coalition forces were able to amass information from sources ranging from sensors on the battlefield, to unmanned aircraft in the sky, to satellites miles away in orbit. The military systems communicated digitized data in real time to systems on the front lines, the United States, and other locations where decisions were being made.
AMS's Hillen, a former officer who served in Desert Storm, says that in the first Gulf War, the computer systems used by the military and intelligence agencies were so incapable of talking to each other that air commanders had to print hundreds of pages of a document called the air tasking order each day. This script would be loaded on helicopters and flown to aircraft carriers, and officers had to thumb through the hard copy to figure out their roles in an operation.
In the connected, digitized warfare in the most recent war on Iraq, a Humvee became the military equivalent of a mobile datacenter. Consider the CGS (Common Ground Station) from GDDS, featuring communication equipment for secure radio, satellite, and land-line communications. More than 20 different communications interfaces feed into off-the-shelf, Unix-based workstations, mounted in the back of the vehicle to handle data from multiple real-time sensors and systems, including radar from JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) reconnaissance aircraft and video images from UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), says Ralph Whitney, business unit manager of CGS at GDDS.
The CGS pulls together the data on one electronic map that gives commanders up-to-minute information and a clear picture of the whereabouts of both the enemy and friendly vehicles. The latest CGS uses a Web service architecture to provide the information in near real time to authorities in the United States and Europe as well as the Middle East via the military's restricted Internet, called SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), Whitney says.
GPS: Star of the War