by Simone Kaplan

U.S. Joint Forces Command’s (JFCOM) Integration Project

Aug 15, 20023 mins
IT Leadership

Integration is difficult in the best of circumstances. When you’re the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and your integration project involves four branches of the military and dozens of government agencies, it’s an almost insurmountable challenge.

It helps when the mandate for integration comes from the U.S. secretary of Defense and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. CIO-100 honoree JFCOM began its multipronged approach in 1998, when the secretary of Defense issued a charter mandating interoperability among the military branches. First, JFCOM created a governing body and drafted system standards to which all branches must adhere. The goal of the project, says David Ozolek, assistant director of joint experimentation for JFCOM, was to create a rapid response capability in which all branches of the military communicate via integrated systems.

“The Department of Defense has a history of problems with interoperability,” Ozolek says. “Our initiative has been more than defining a set of systems. It’s been overhauling the culture within the DOD.” It’s no secret the four branches haven’t worked together well. For example, if a Navy pilot was flying over a group of Marines who were about to be ambushed, the pilot couldn’t warn them because the Navy plane’s radio equipment wasn’t compatible with the walkie-talkies carried by the Marines. The same went for their computer systems.

“Each service had systems developed to meet their particular needs,” Ozolek says. “It made us less effective and efficient.”

JFCOM has established three approaches to creating a joint military context. The first, called Unified Vision, is a coalition of military bodies, government agencies, industry leaders and academics whose goal is to examine new technologies and organizational structures, and reconcile the needs and goals of the service as they move toward interoperability. JFCOM then changed its organizational structure. The Joint Interoperability and Integration (JI&I) structure creates and enforces system requirements, says Navy Captain Alex Urrutia, deputy director of joint interoperability and integration at JFCOM. JI&I also holds the purse strings for all integration-related expenses.

Because of security concerns, JFCOM can’t provide details on the new standards, Ozolek says, but he can say they are extensive, covering everything from radios to data tags. Now, JFCOM is charged with ensuring all new and existing systems meet interoperability criteria.

The third leg of the project, called the Interoperability Technology Demonstration Center (ITDC), is scheduled for completion in 2003. The ITDC will be the testing arena for systems, software and procedures to ensure compliance with JI&I standards. Eventually, the ITDC will set the standards.

Another concept called Rapid Decisive Operations (RDO) is now being used in Afghanistan. RDO involves networked command that lets all military personnel communicate and collaborate under a central command post. “It took us eight months to build up ground forces and plan for Desert Storm,” Ozolek recalls. “Within the RDO structure, when the U.S. went to Afghanistan, we had amassed and deployed troops to the area and had significant enemy contact within three weeks.”

Getting the four branches to agree to work together was difficult, Ozolek says. What finally convinced them was a chilling projection devised to anticipate the circumstances of the next major conflict. The scenario involved domestic terrorist attacks by extremist Middle Eastern groups that escalated into a foreign invasion. “After Sept. 11, they were totally convinced, and we were able to deploy to the Middle East as one military force, rather than four disparate groups,” Ozolek says.