In Part 2, we discussed the challenges the international disaster response community faces. In this post, we'll look at how the US Military creates collaborative information systems between millions of soldiers.
Building the Hive Mind: The United States Military
The Military in the Information Age
Coordinating nearly 1.5 million troops in five military branches across every continent is an extremely complex undertaking. From flying unmanned aerial vehicles to directing clandestine operations, not to mention processing enormous amounts of situational data, information technology allows the United States Armed Forces to have complete command and control from half a world away. Although extremely bureaucratic in nature, the military is at the forefront of technology for elaborate logistical functionality.
Developed in the late 1990's by the Department of Defense, the theory of network-centric warfare seeks to increase "combat power by networking sensors, decision makers, and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command... and a degree of self-synchronization." The theory grew out of the need for advanced systems of military coordination in a world increasingly commanded by information technology, especially that of large business operations.
The battlefield is viewed as a rapidly evolving ecosystem where information is the key to dominance. Information awareness between the various units involved in an operation is achieved through a "collaborative network of networks, populated and refreshed with quality intelligence." The self-synchronization aspect of network-centric warfare seeks to allow "low-level forces to operate nearly autonomously" through this information awareness.
One of the main benefits of a military in which information networks are paramount is that it truly allows for an "Army of One." Information kept within the head of a single soldier is a weakness, since "cognitive activities by their nature are individualistic." The collaborative approach is "shared sensemaking" which is the "process of going from shared awareness to shared understanding to collaborative decision making."
The Army Battle Command System (ABCS) is the network-centric warfare theory put into practice. The ABCS is a suite of mobile and permanent software and systems (like the FBCB2 with Blue Force Tracking) that allow soldiers to view a variety of types of data from various sources on a single screen, edit this data, then move the data from one source to the next.
The Take-Away Message
The US Military's systems, procedures and operations are far from perfect. However, the Military's ability to create a network of shared information awareness is truly unrivaled. The international disaster response community needs to embrace these network-centric concepts for the future of response. While the Military is still a single entity, international responders will need a universal platform, not owned by a single organization, that will bring everyone to the table.
"The Implementation of Network-Centric Warfare" - The Office of Force Transformation
For more from the Redesigning International Disaster Response series:
» Part 1: The Players
» Part 2: The Challenges
» Part 4: Current Innovation