uring NATO's war over Kosovo last year, the widening gap between U.S. capabilities in electronics and communications and the abilities of even its closest allies came into stark relief. U.S. warplanes conducted the vast majority of the precision strikes against Serbian targets and supplied the lion's share of the intelligence, reconnaissance and advanced command-and-control systems that are at the heart of managing modern warfare.
In some cases, frontline European fighters lacked the communications equipment to talk over secure lines with NATO headquarters elements managing the air war. Finding a way to close that electronics and communications gap has now become a top priority on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The Kosovo air campaign demonstrated just how dependent the European allies had become on U.S. military capabilities," said Lord George Robertson, NATO secretary general, in a speech earlier this year. "From precision-guided weapons and all-weather aircraft to ground troops that can get to the crisis quickly and then stay there with adequate logistical support, the Europeans did not have enough of the right stuff. We must avoid what one NATO official called a 'two-class' NATO, with a precision class and a bleeding class. That would be politically unsustainable."
NATO's recently retired Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, also believes Kosovo will be a turning point in terms of convincing European allies of the need for truly interoperable and complementary command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) systems. "I think the Europeans now have a much greater appreciation for what advanced technology can achieve in terms of warfare, if adequate investments are made," said Clark in an interview. "Kosovo clearly demonstrated that lesson."
Not that the U.S. military has found it easy adapting to rapid-fire advances in communications technology. A Defense Science Board report that studied the impact of such advances on U.S. troops in Bosnia a few years ago, for instance, noted that soldiers on the ground were sometimes swamped by a fire hose of information.
The U.S. military is also becoming more vulnerable to information warfare as it becomes more reliant on computerized information systems. Both the Defense and Energy departments have confirmed that their computer systems are the target of hundreds of daily attacks by hackers or foreign intelligence agents trying to gain access to classified information. The most coordinated and highly organized of the attempted break-ins-called Moonlight Maze-was eventually traced back to Russia. The CIA has identified Russia, China and India as possessing strategic information warfare capabilities.
Meanwhile, a RAND report on Strategic Information Warfare characterized information warfare as the "new face of war" and warned that the United States has no warning system for distinguishing between strategic information warfare attacks and the work of random hackers. Partly as a result, the mission of computer network defense was recently handed over to a war-fighting command-the U.S. Space Command.
Because electronics and communications equipment is integral to so many of the systems the Pentagon purchases, it is difficult to quantify as a separate market category. Even when the electronics and communications components in weapons systems are excluded, the Electronics Industry Association estimates that more than 250 procurement line items in the defense budget refer primarily to electronics and communications equipment. Functional areas covered include tactical intelligence, electronic warfare, automation, radar, surveillance systems, communications, air-traffic control, training equipment, command-and-control systems, reconnaissance, cryptography and radios.