I’d like to share my day 1 impressions of the activities that caught my attention today at the Joint Warfighting Conference 2009 in Virginia Beach.
First, there are more displays this year than last year, and the small businesses in the defense industry are well represented. I was also heartened to see that the focus of technologies has shifted, the big ideas are out and the small, useful technologies are ready for demonstration. I was particularly impressed by several humanitarian support technologies on display, including a lightweight, rapidly assembled shelter system that is capable of supporting indigenous construction materials that costs about the same as the tents usually used in disaster recovery operations.
Of all the panels and speakers today, the best I saw was MajGen Koen A. Gijsbers, Royal Netherlands Army during the late after noon cyber security panel. He produced one story after another that really set the tone of the problem. For example, did you know the NATO commander in Afghanistan has 7 computers on his desk, just so he can interface with the forces under his command? He pointed out that during the cyber attack of Estonia, 50% of the attacks came from the United States (from hijacked botnet run PCs). But his best point is one that I kept running into all day, that while the strategic direction of the United States may be to work with partners, both us and our partners are horrible at sharing information.
I think fighting piracy off Somalia is an example most people are familiar with, I sometimes worry we are so busy working on deconfliction between the various commands, procedures, and operations of the good guys that no one really has time to fight the bad guys out there.
Finally, there was an excellent question asked during the hybrid warfare panel moderated by Frank Hoffman, and I think I’ll offer the question up here for discussion. The State Dept. has sent members of their PRT team out to Fort Irwin to train with the military before deploying to Afghanistan, which is a very new thing btw. The question is whether unity of effort is enough, or does their need to be unity of command for the military and civilians in the forward theater of war?
The panel gave some very good non-answers. It was a great question.