USA — Generals Stress Need to Share Information

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — As U.S. forces increas­ing­ly work as part of multi­na­tion­al coali­tions, they are part of a cul­tur­al shift toward more infor­ma­tion shar­ing and work­ing more close­ly with allied troops, mil­i­tary lead­ers gath­ered here for a con­fer­ence on joint warfight­ing said.

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis, com­man­der of U.S. Joint Forces Com­mand, which co-host­ed the 2010 Joint Warfight­ing Con­fer­ence, said the respon­si­bil­i­ty will fall on young offi­cers to build trust across the ranks to improve infor­ma­tion shar­ing.

“In this age, I don’t care how tech­no­log­i­cal­ly or oper­a­tional­ly bril­liant you are; if you can­not build trust [across var­i­ous mul­ti­ple par­tic­i­pants], you might as well go home,” he said.

Air Force Maj. Gen. David M. Edg­ing­ton, Joint Forces Command’s chief of staff, said a cul­tur­al change is in the works to change the infor­ma­tion-shar­ing par­a­digm from “need-to-know” to “will-to-share.”

The Unit­ed States does not have the only mil­i­tary reluc­tant to share, Edg­ing­ton acknowl­edged, but it bears more of the bur­den as a leader in coali­tion oper­a­tions. “We have the tech­nol­o­gy and the capa­bil­i­ty to gath­er more infor­ma­tion and dis­trib­ute it than oth­er coun­tries,” he said.

Some­times there are legit­i­mate rea­sons to not share infor­ma­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it involves intel­li­gence that could put troops at risk, Edg­ing­ton said. But often, he added, infor­ma­tion isn’t shared due only to unnec­es­sary bureau­crat­ic rea­sons.

Shar­ing infor­ma­tion with coali­tion forces helps U.S. troops by reliev­ing some of their bur­den from the fight, Edg­ing­ton said. To those reluc­tant to share, he had a sim­ple mes­sage: “Get over it, guys. They’re going to be fight­ing with us.”

Edg­ing­ton con­ced­ed that shar­ing infor­ma­tion increas­es the risk of poten­tial­ly harm­ful infor­ma­tion get­ting into the wrong hands. “Yes, it’s a risk,” he said. “But it’s all about risk and it’s a risk to the oth­er forces, too.”

The mil­i­tary lead­ers also spoke of the need for “inter­op­er­abil­i­ty,” the abil­i­ty of coali­tion forces to work inter­change­ably with the same equip­ment and doc­trine. The shift will be a big change for senior offi­cers, Edg­ing­ton said. “Any­body at the rank of colonel or above — we’ve all grown up in this where the U.S. is leap years ahead, and we can’t afford to do that any more.”

Edg­ing­ton not­ed, how­ev­er, that many coun­tries fol­lowed the Unit­ed States in buy­ing F‑15 air­craft, and many also joined in the ear­ly stages of pur­chas­ing the joint strike fight­er air­craft, which is still being devel­oped.

French Air Force Gen. Stephane Abr­i­al, NATO supreme allied com­man­der for trans­for­ma­tion, spoke of the impor­tance of strength­en­ing the alliance for the future. Build­ing trust that leads to infor­ma­tion shar­ing and improved inter­op­er­abil­i­ty of equip­ment is crit­i­cal, he said.

The abil­i­ty for all coali­tion nations to oper­ate inter­change­ably “should be hard­wired into our DNA,” Abr­i­al said. An increas­ing gap between U.S. mil­i­tary equip­ment and tech­nol­o­gy and that of its allies is not being closed quick­ly enough, he said, and NATO is coop­er­at­ing with the defense indus­try to close that gap.

Build­ing trust also should decrease the num­ber of “caveats” or restric­tions, some nations insist upon when agree­ing to be part of coali­tion oper­a­tions, Abr­i­al not­ed. Such restric­tions can restrict troops’ involve­ment in cer­tain oper­a­tions or pre­vent infor­ma­tion shar­ing, espe­cial­ly intel­li­gence, he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)