TAMPA, Fla. – The Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command addressed a crowd of more than 2,000 at a communications and electronics conference here, Aug. 24, where he stressed the importance of advanced communications gear on today’s battlefield, and the need for further development.
Adm. Bill H. McRaven, commander of USSOCOM, spoke for nearly 30 minutes and then took questions from those attending the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s LandWarNet Conference at the Tampa Convention Center. The conference theme was “Transforming Cyber While at War,” and was designed to bring the government and communications industry together to discuss best practices.
While counterinsurgency and counterterrorism are the “core operations” of USSOCOM, McRaven said communications is an integral tool in being successful. On an average day throughout the command, 321,000 e-mails are sent, there are 72,000 Web page hits, and personnel are also communicating via text and chat. There are also an average of 210 video-teleconferences each day throughout USSOCOM, six of which McRaven participated in each day when he was the commander of Joint Special Operations Command.
“The criticality, the clarity of that information, of that communication network, was absolutely critical to how I got my job done,” he said.
McRaven said while the daily VTCs were vital in passing and receiving information, they can improve. One topic he proposed to the audience for change was “improve reception” – developing a speech-to-text capability, much like hearing impaired text on televisions, during VTCs. This would allow proper translation of what’s being discussed for those who don’t speak English.
“Anything that improves how we communicate with our partners is going to be critical,” McRaven said.
Other areas of improvement McRaven touched on were:
A universal domain: The ability use the latest technology, such as a smartphone, to communicate across all networks; unclassified, secret, and top secret. He envisions being able to select the classification and have an e-mail sent to only those who have the clearance to view it, and all of this happening on a secure network. He added the current use of several networks for different classifications slows up how we communicate.
Enterprise cloud: A platform that will allow all 59,000 users throughout the command to get the information needed no matter where they are in the world.
Full spectrum search engine: A universal search engine that allows the user to search across unclassified, secret and top secret databases.
Ironclad protection: He said while we have the Common Access Cards, passwords and biometrics in some cases, he’s not sure we have “ironclad” protection. During the question and answer session, McRaven was asked about USSOCOM’s relationship with U.S. Cyber Command. He stated their lessons learned could be incorporated into the SOCOM enterprise, and when it comes to ironclad protection, he is open to anything Cyber Command can “bring to the fight” in terms of support.
In addition to proposing new ideas to how Special Operations Forces communicate, McRaven also touched on the latest technology helps forces on the ground.
“I guarantee what I need is [high definition] video from [an unmanned aerial vehicle],” he said. “I need still pictures that are crystal clear. I need to make sure the information coming across the radios and [Internet relay chat] is as clear as it can be so we don’t misinterpret what the guy in the field is seeing, or how we are relaying intelligence to the man in the field.”
McRaven went on to explain how the use of high definition video can help tell the difference between a man carrying wood and a man with a rocket propelled grenade on his shoulder, or the difference between 15 military aged males and women and children.
“If you make that mistake, you are going to inadvertently kill civilians, and that’s the last thing you want to do in a counterinsurgency,” he said. “It is about making sure you are supporting the population, so our targeting, and how that targeting information flows is absolutely critical.”
Several times throughout his speech McRaven stressed communication is key because Special Operations Forces are deployed to an average of 70 countries around the world every day of the year. He said that’s especially so during crisis management, when all things are compressed in time and space, and communication must move “at the speed of war.”