Information Warfare: Gun Coast and the Power of Information

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May 30, 2006: The U.S. Air Force is learning a lesson from police departments, and making a lot more, of the information its airborne sensors collect, available to the guys on the ground. This move deals with a long standing complaint from the ground troops. While the air force has long boasted of how good it was at seeing what was going on down there, the people who needed that data the most, the guys doing the fighting on the ground, were often the last ones to get a peek at all that expensive air force material.

The reasons for this absurd situation are manifold, and include bureaucracy, equipment shortcomings and inter-service feuds and rivalries. Put simply, over the decades, the air force focused more on what it could do to win the battle, or war, by itself, and less on what it could do to cooperate with the other services in a united effort.

Noting that the FBI, and major police organizations, have powerful data collection and analysis systems, which are a big help in solving crimes, the air force is putting together similar systems for it's own targeting people, as well as the ground troops it works with. When all the pieces are in place, the air force will have its Global Net Centric Surveillance and Targeting (GNCST, pronounced "gun coast") system.

GNCST was originally conceived as a system for helping air force commanders locate enemy anti-aircraft systems. But the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the effect of so many new sensors (like thousands of army and marine micro UAVs) and weapons (smart bombs, and smart shells and rockets being introduced by the army) made the air force generals realize that the ground forces were becoming independent of the air force. Actually, what got the air force's attention even more was the fact that the army was suddenly getting a lot more money, while the air force was not. That's because it was painfully obvious that the army was ever more capable, and willing, to get on with its work (ground combat) without the air force. Congress was noticing this too, and the money was going to the people getting things done.

GNCST is, like many civilian data mining systems, highly automated. The system is meant to give users rapid, almost instant access, to data that used to be delayed for hours, or days, while human analysts could scrutinize it. This delay was too long, even for many air force users. But now the air force has to compete with all those army and marine UAVs, and the increasing use of GPS guided shells and rockets. The army and marines are taking the initiative, equipping their airborne sensors with communications networks that allow information collected up there, to get to the troops below much faster.

If the air force wants to stay in the game, they have to make a viable contribution. To that end, even videos created by targeting systems in fighter bombers is being made available to the troops on the ground. The air force is finding that the customer is always right, especially when the customer, or at least customer satisfaction, has a major effect on income.

 


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