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'Jointness' Becomes Key Focus in Developing Military Capability

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2006 – When U.S. forces first deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the services had several different systems in place to track "blue," or friendly, forces. But those systems didn't "talk" to each other, leaving big gaps in a joint forces commander's ability to see the big picture.

That's no longer the case. The Blue Force Tracker, developed quickly through a U.S. Joint Forces Command initiative, provides full situational awareness to battlefield commanders. The digital system uses a satellite network to provide detailed information on friendly and enemy units up to 5,000 miles away. That translates into better-coordinated operations and less risk of fratricide.

Air Force Maj. Gen. William Rajczak, the command's deputy director for joint requirements and integrations, calls Blue Force Tracker an example of the ongoing effort to make military forces truly joint.

While praising the Blue Force Tracker system, Rajzcak told American Forces Press Service the ultimate goal is to transform the way military equipment and weapons systems are developed so the interoperability concept drives the train. "We try to develop processes and get joint at the beginning," Raczjak said. "We can do things a lot better if we do them together in a joint context."

Joint Forces Command is working with the services, the Joint Staff and the DoD staff to introduce "jointness" into the capability development process. By working together, these entities can come up with better equipment and systems that not only work across the board, but also cost less to develop and field, Raczjak said. "We're striving to make it so individual services can work together and build on each other's strengths while minimizing any gaps (in capabilities) that exist," he said. "By doing so, we're able to meet warfighters' needs and to do it the most effective and economical method possible."

That's the concept behind JFCOM's drive to come up with a joint command and control system to replace an estimated 150 current systems currently in use, as well as the "phraselator," a handheld device to serve as a translator when there's no linguist around.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and private companies developed the new phraselator to help troops in Iraq to communicate with local citizens, Raczjak explained. Users speak into the device, which translates their English into Iraqi, or punch a button to call up the desired phrase. Troops in Iraq who tested the phraselator gave it the thumbs up, saying it promoted candid one-on-one conversations with Iraqis. Now, beginning in January, it will be fielded to the theater, Raczjak reported.

Ultimately, developers say the phraselator will translate English phrases into as many as 30 foreign languages. U.S. European Command has shown strong interest in using it for operations in Africa.

The development and fielding of the phraselator reflects a new approach to acquisition that Raczjak shows great promise in putting emerging technologies into joint warfighters' hands. While the defense acquisition system may work for major weapons systems, it's too slow and too complicated to quickly get the latest information technology to the field before it's replaced with a better system, he said.

"This is a different approach to acquisition," Raczjak said. "The trick is to be as broad in your requirement as you can and allow vendors to show you their best wares. Then, put it in the hands of warfighters earlier in the process to determine if it's appropriate to the need, get their input, and go back and refine it."

Raczjak said he expects this approach to become the standard as the services strive toward fielding systems they can all use faster and less expensively than if they developed them separately. "There's a real agreement in principle about working together," Raczjak said. "The advantages are evident, and we're seeing more interest from all corners."

As the services strive toward jointness -- from how they develop equipment and systems to how they train and operate -- each will preserve its unique character, Raczjak said.

"We don't want a vanilla military," he said. "Each service has a very different culture and set of strengths. We want to blend those strengths and use them to our advantage, rather than having them duplicate each other's efforts."

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