During last year’s attack on Baghdad, global positioning systems installed on U.S. vehicles allowed troops entering the city by tank to monitor the invasion on their computer screens in a common operating picture. So-called “”blue force tracking”” used in Iraq makes a huge difference in war operations,

because the military can make faster decisions and reduce incidents of “”friendly fire,”” since allied forces are clearly in sight, according to John Bovenkamp, senior strategic planner for Defence R&D Canada-Ottawa.

It’s an example of network-centric warfare, or network-enabled operations, the application of the latest network technologies to the battlefield and peacekeeping operations that the Canadian military and others consider to be the cornerstone of the military’s transformation, Bovenkamp explains. Rather than being exported to the private sector, he says, network-centric systems are already being used by companies like Wal-Mart to inform suppliers of customer purchases via a computer system.

But in the armed forces, says Paul Addy, an associate consultant with Ottawa-based government-relations firm CFN Consultants, the “”digitization of the battlefield”” will help solve a common problem of an allied troop’s inability to pass on information to other team members better positioned to act.

Although Bovenkamp says he believes it will be two decades before network-centric warfare is fully implemented in the military, other examples are showing up. In Afghanistan, coalition special operating forces worked together using BlackBerries and global positioning systems. “”They were able to communicate very closely . . . with the shooters,”” he says. “”The airplanes would then apply the force that they were looking for.””

The U.S. is spending billions of dollars to increase the bandwidth of the global information grid, an information system for war fighters, policy makers and support personnel, to achieve security and connectivity essential to both conflict and peacekeeping situations, Bovenkamp adds.

Other players developing network-centric warfare include the UK, Australia and NATO. Canada has also researched this area but only now is it integrating its approach, a key part of which will be to soon hold its first major international symposium on the topic.

Although money is being poured into developing the technology, Bovenkamp noted big roadblocks to its widespread implementation are concerns about “”the security, the robustness, the trustworthiness, the protection”” of networks, as well as information overload.

“”Some people tend to get too enthusiastic and make statements like, ‘Network-enabled operations is going to completely lift the fog of war,'””complained Bovenkamp. “”I think there always will be a fog of war, but I think network-enabled operations will really improve the situation.””

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