2.1.2 Why Interoperability Is Important
Why is interoperability, which is so difficult to achieve, so essential to implementing current doctrine as well as emerging concepts of operation?
Experience in operations such as Desert Storm and Bosnia, as well as evidence from recent experiments and exercises, points to the dramatic improvements in operational effectiveness that are achievable using highly capable C4I systems. The leverage provided by a common operating picture and the rapid decision-making ability associated with it can dramatically change the pace, nature, and geographic range of engagement, providing major advantage to forces so enabled. Interoperability is a key to realizing these advantages.
Interoperability is also an important factor in operational efficiency. Where interoperability is lacking, there is the likelihood that multiple systems are performing the same functions, or that information is being manually entered or processed multiple times. And lack of interoperability also means that personnel have to resort to work-arounds. Where interoperability is not in place, necessary transfer of information between systems may require speaking over a voice link or rekeying data from printouts or handwritten notes, processes that are not only inefficient but error-prone as well.
Military operations are typically joint, requiring that the C4I systems of multiple services work together effectively. Both the generally unpredictable nature of military contingencies and the wide range of non-traditional operations mean that forces and weapons are likely to be combined in novel, unanticipated ways to meet operational requirements and that their C4I systems may need to interoperate in ways not explicitly planned for in advance. Also, the new operational emphasis on rapid force projection, and the concept of early entry to halt an invasion, mean that there will likely be less time during a deployment to fix interoperability problems. Finally, the increasing size of the area over which combat operations take place--and thus the number of possible forces and weapons that must coordinate their attack--means that data is increasingly being exchanged between sensors, weapons, and systems that previously operated in a stand-alone manner. To meet such operational requirements, the different elements of the C4I system of systems will need to be more interoperable.
Many important military missions require a high degree of interoperability to support cross-service collaboration. Some specific instances in the area of joint operations include the following:
- Close air support, which requires that Army ground troops be able to communicate their air support needs to Air Force ground attack airplanes in a timely and accurate fashion;
- Suppression of enemy air defenses, which in general requires the coordinated use of missiles and aircraft operated by multiple services;
- Theater missile defense, where, as noted above, data may be shared between weapons systems of different services or shared at the joint task force command and control systems level (or higher);
- Regional air defense, which requires the coordination of many air defense assets, from missile batteries and radar on the ground to airborne surveillance platforms and air defense fighters; and
- Deep-strike attacks and interdiction of enemy forces behind the front lines, which both require the coordinated use of airspace, strike aircraft, ground- and sea-based missiles, and long-range artillery.
There is also ample evidence
from experience that inadequate interoperability can cause major problems and
significantly reduce military effectiveness. A recent report by the Secretary of
Defense noted that "from Grenada in 1983 to Operation Desert Storm in 1991,
joint operations have been hindered by the inability of forces to share critical
information at the rate and at the locations demanded by modern warfare."4 Recent examples include the following:5
- During Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of
Grenada, the Marines and the Army Rangers could communicate only through
offshore relay stations, because their use of radio frequencies was
uncoordinated. As a result, the Marines did not know in one instance that the
Army Rangers were "pinned down without adequate armor."6
- During the Joint Warrior Interoperability
Demonstration in 1996, problems associated with network configuration did not
support "timely interoperability" with coalition forces. According to the
Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration report, limitations of the
multilevel security systems, which were intended to allow information to be
delivered to coalition forces, required manual intervention even for use of
simple applications such as e-mail. This need for manual intervention "made it
extremely difficult to conduct U.S./coalition collaborative planning since
information . . . was never fully synchronized for both U.S. and Allied
- According to the General Accounting Office, 43
"significant interoperability problems" associated with 15 C4I systems and
weapons, such as the AEGIS and Patriot systems, were identified by the Joint
Interoperability Test Command during four joint exercises held in 1996 and
1997. These interoperability problems, most of which "were caused by
system-specific software problems," could potentially "result in the loss of
life, equipment, or supplies."8
In short, interoperability is essential to
operability--that is, forces cannot operate effectively without a high degree of
interoperability among their systems. Unfortunately, interoperability is often
treated as a potentially desirable but nonessential, element of C4I programs,
and a sufficient degree of interoperability, especially inter-service, is not
currently seen by managers as a pass-fail criterion for their programs.
Consequently, interoperability requirements tend to be one of the first things
sacrificed when budgets force program cost reductions.
That said, universal interoperability is neither achievable nor necessary. Not every C4I system on the battlefield needs to interoperate with every other one. Nor is universal interoperability--which might be thought of as allowing all information in all systems to be seamlessly exchanged and interpreted--technically feasible, given the rate of change in both technologies and missions. The importance of achieving interoperability, determination of what and how much is sufficient, and decision making about allocation of resources to achieve interoperability can be addressed only in an operational context.