Collaboration must be lifeblood of joint combat operations

Collaboration among coalition forces on the battlefield would seem to be a given, but there are still major hurdles preventing critical information sharing, according to international military officials.

In an era of joint warfare, collaboration would seem inherent; but it’s not, and it’s becoming increasingly important to carrying out operations, according to members of a panel of international military officials.

That lack of collaboration is costly. It is caused by a number of barriers, such as stovepiped intelligence and decision-making, culture, and subpar communications strategies, a group of military officials from the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom said Oct. 18 at the GEOINT 2011 Symposium in San Antonio, Texas.

“In terms of coalition warfare…in the services we man, train and equip our forces to be prepared to goto war. Jointly we travel to a wartime theater. But we will only win our wars…with partners, allies and the members of alliances we have that represent coalition warfare. We cannot win unilaterally,” said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, assistant director of national intelligence for partner engagement, Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

Flynn said that IT initiatives in the intelligence community will not only help confront budget pressures, but also aid in collaboration.

““There will never be one database; there will never be one system. That would be like solving global warming; it’ll never happen. But if we can come to grips with this cloud architecture, we can come to grips with exactly what it is we need to do to be able to communicate. And not just with ourselves, but within a coalition,” he said.

It’s an issue that translates to foreign military services as well. In the United Kingdom, existing protocols for information-sharing are damming up intelligence that would benefit the coalition fight, said Brig. N.R. Davies, commander of the United Kingdom's Intelligence Collection Group.

“The current systems architecture and intelligence-handling policies reinforce institutional separation. A lot of the policies that stop [multinational collaboration] are still in place,” Davies said.

Opening up the flow of information would help communication even beyond downrange operations – and it’s also critical to decision-making on the fly and on the ground, according to Maj. Gen. J.H. Vance, director of staff for Canada's Strategic Joint Staff.

“It applies to all of us, all the time…we’re involved with two wars and all sorts of other activities, with coalition partners. It’s important even out of theater to have that strategic sharing that must go on. Right now we don’t have an awful lot of the support systems that allow us to do that,” Vance said.

He also stressed the need to empower troops on the ground to make fast decisions.

“We don’t have the time anymore to give orders all the time to troops…we have to give them intent and understanding to use their capacity as good soldiers to do the right thing at the right time,” Vance said.

But to achieve that, it will require overcoming a hurdle familiar throughout the Defense Department: cultural barriers that hinder the information-sharing critical to understanding the coalition picture.

“There’s a cultural shift that we’re going to have to make over the next decade, and that’s a big, big deal. It has nothing to do with technology; it has everything to do with culture,” Flynn said.”Organizations don’t get along with each other – people get along with each other.

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