Military brass urges overseas info tech spending increase

A larger investment in communications and information technology is crucial to the military's ability to combat terrorism overseas, according to regional combat commanders who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

"We need increased [communications and computer systems] funding to maintain the operational edge over our adversaries," said Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and leader of the military's effort to help the Philippine army combat terrorism more effectively.

Blair said in written testimony that the military's information infrastructure--commonly known as command, control, communications and computer systems, or C4--is the "unsung workhorse of any military operation," and he stressed the need for interoperability among systems.

"As evidenced by the world's recent response to recent terrorist events, the need for information sharing between service, joint and coalition partners, as well as local, state and federal organizations, has increased exponentially," Blair said. "This requirement places a strain on an already antiquated and stressed communications network."

Blair said that in regions such as the Philippines, for example, U.S. military systems are not interoperable with the mobile radio systems used by local police and fire officials. "These incompatibilities prevent key personnel from sharing critical information in a timely fashion and could easily lead to catastrophic results," he said.

But he cautioned that a failure to protect highly sensitive information from unauthorized users could yield equally catastrophic results.

"How we protect our sensitive information from potential adversaries while ... sharing it with our coalition partners is probably the toughest challenge we face in today's C4 environment," Blair said, noting that Pacific Command networks are threatened by viruses and hacker attacks on a daily basis. "Although we have made significant strides to improve [information assurance] in [the Pacific Command], we are far from 100 percent protected. Cyber warfare never rests."

Blair said the Pacific Command needs a "heavy investment" to modernize its antiquated cryptography. "Replacement parts for this aging equipment are difficult to obtain--a limiting factor as technology increases the speed, connectivity and capacity of our networks," he said.

Many of the Pacific Command's other basic infrastructure elements also are antiquated, such as wires and cables installed as far back as the 1960s. "These cables are no longer dependable," Blair said, adding that the ever-increasing need for more real-time information requires the Pacific Command to quickly upgrade its systems to support increasing bandwidth and speed requirements of intelligence gatherers, combat planners and war-fighters.

Military troops helping to keep the peace in Korea are facing similar challenges, according to Gen. Thomas Schwartz, who serves as commander in chief of that region.

"In the past, unfunded [C4] requirements have had a significant impact on our ability to maintain an adequate infrastructure needed to support the increased bandwidth, network redundancy and the modern decision and collaboration tools required by my unit commanders," Schwartz said, adding that local military units have had to divert money from other operations' accounts to maintain adequate technological capabilities.