The network, known as FusionNet, will be the subject of a presentation Monday at the Systems & Software Technology Conference in Salt Lake City by Maj. Kurt Warner, information and knowledge-management officer for the U.S. Army's XVIII Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division.
FusionNet was created because commanders in Iraq couldn't get an accurate picture of the state of readiness of military units. Warner, in an interview, said decision makers lacked information about what personnel were assigned to what missions and what kind of equipment and supplies they had. For example, logistics commanders charged with sending food and ammunition to a military unit often had difficulty finding out just how many soldiers were in that unit.
Conflicting data in multiple systems also is a problem. Information in one IT system, such as a medical-records database, often is different from that in others, such as personnel records. "I'm not even sure whose system is the most accurate most of the time," Warner says.
Equally difficult was distributing battlefield reports from local commanders, often containing critical intelligence such as the locations of frequent insurgent ambushes, to other military units. A lot of important information is now stored in documents on field commanders' laptop computers.
"Currently we fight on E-mail, PowerPoint, and Excel spreadsheets," Warner says. "Information needs to flow through the hierarchies of command. The vision of FusionNet has always been to connect all echelons of command and their staff."
Planning for FusionNet began in August 2001 and development started two years later. FusionNet is a two-way hub-and-spoke system developed using Microsoft Visual Studio and the Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database. The system recently was deployed on servers in Fort Bragg, N.C., and Baghdad, Iraq. PeerDirect replication software sold by PeerDirect Corp., which is an operating company of Progress Software Corp., synchronizes data, now totaling about 3.5 Gbytes, between the two servers every 10 minutes.
In June the system will be expanded to servers in a dozen divisional and brigade headquarters throughout Iraq, Warner says. The amount of data managed by the system will grow as well to include command and control, maneuver and operations, logistics, and personnel information, he says. The British Army and other coalition forces in Iraq also are expected to deploy the system
A new version of the system expected to be finished in July will allow commanders to work in disconnected mode on their portable systems and then synchronize their data with FusionNet when they reconnect. "So [commanders] can spend more time leading their men and less time building spreadsheets," Warner says. "We're the ultimate mobile worker."