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Why the U.S. should help countries communicate internally

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Coalition building is not a new concept, but it is evolving into a vital component of the Chief of Naval Operations' 1,000-ship Navy concept of combining international resources in a cohesive strategy to address the hard-hitting command and control requirements necessary to conduct Global War on Terror (GWOT) activities. Some in the defense industry have spent the past few years advocating for the use of non-classified domains to do so.

If executed correctly, international teams can have inclusive -- but protected -- operating environments in which all authorized members can collect, contribute, share and analyze information; plan as a group with that data; and operate accordingly. What's more, much of the information required to support this activity does not lie within classified military systems and databases, but is out in the open and supported by unclassified technology systems.

Communication lines for all these entities could be created in partnership with DoD and corporate entities using open-source technology systems such as available earth mapping and virtual chat applications to foster collaboration and real-time response to situations as they happen in an area of operation. This would alleviate the concern of providing fledging governments in third-world countries access to secure Defense Internet protocol networks while providing these moderate ruling parties access to valuable information that will help them counter insurgents and terrorists within their own borders.

While the advancement of such systems is tantamount toward winning the GWOT, there's another critical piece to this strategy that must be in place if a true working global coalition is to exist -- helping partners effectively and efficiency exchange data internally.

Issues abound

There's been much written about the lack of information sharing between law enforcement agencies in the United States, but the problem is infinitely greater in developing countries. Many nations in Northern Africa, for instance, do not possess the infrastructure or business processes to establish and maintain connectivity between, say, their Gendarme and other government agencies, much less the ability to exchange data between them. Even if such information sharing policies are in place, satellite and wireless coverage may be sporadic in many hot spots.

The technology challenges are many, and can also include issues outside of Internet connectivity and stable power. For example, databases from one agency within a developing country may be incompatible with their counterparts, making information sharing impossible or, at the very least, time consuming. Encrypting and decrypting data may also prove difficult, depending on how dissimilar the systems and practices are between the two internal departments. Even if information can be shared between agencies in a reasonable timeframe, questions will arise as to what each department should do with the data once received.

The United States can play a key strategic role in solving these internal issues for nations on the GWOT front lines by utilizing the same principles that apply to creating an unclassified multinational data exchange system. Developing country's leaders must design the features and functions of the platform for their own use to see widespread adoption. Yet Western nations can offer advice and technical expertise to help these countries implement such a system. If successful, the United States will also see less apprehension by countries to share information outside of its own borders; a contentious issue in many regions of the globe.

Essential to GWOT strategy

What's more, helping coalition groups exchange data internally is vital to the United States' own GWOT strategy, though from a different perspective than conventional thinking. Instead of extending U.S. capability into a foreign environment, the DoD and its technical partners can use U.S. capability to enhance that environment. In other words; grow not give, teach not tell, them not us. This approach allows unified commands to develop the sovereignty of developing nations by enabling governments and other leadership entities to provide services as described by their people to their people, and by doing so strengthen their society. This is critical because if a government cannot do this, then its people are not really sovereign; no de jure sovereignty without de facto sovereignty.

This is not to suggest it is the duty of the United States to describe or achieve sovereignty for another country. However, by working with developing nations and their people, the command can organize itself to fully understand what sovereignty means to each nation, and detail the objectives and ultimate activities that, when initiated, will lead them to it. Helping them communicate internally is a key component, and must be present if Western countries are to expect fully cooperation and participation in the GWOT on a more global scale.

Rear Adm. Hamlin Tallent, USN (Ret.) is the vice president of C4ISR systems at Sentek Consulting. He retired in 2005 as a U.S. Navy flag officer after completing an extensive tour of duty as director of operations for all of U.S. European Command, and joined Sentek Consulting soon afterwards. E-mail him at htallent@sentekconsulting.com.>

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