- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

CAMP AS SALIYAH, Qatar The top worries in the minds of the men who will run the war with Iraq reflect the new face of warfare information overload and a temptation to micromanage battles from their high-tech command center in Qatar.
A flood of information will pour into their computers from the electronic battlefield, providing allied commanders with a huge potential advantage and help them to deal quickly and effectively with any chemical or biological attack.
"We are able to coordinate an incredibly large amount of information throughout the day," Navy Cmdr. Mike Wilson told a small group of visitors to the closely guarded center from which Gen. Tommy Franks and his deputy, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, will direct the war.
"We have great advantages from this information, but we have a doctrine of letting the commanders on the ground make their own decisions. We only intervene when things are really going wrong."
The facility, known as the U.S. Central Command Forward, employs around 80 men and women who work in rotating shifts of 35, sitting cheek-by-jowl in a low-ceilinged room the size of a large trailer.
Occasionally engaging in animated conversation, they mostly stare into powerful laptop computers, occasionally looking up at a series of 60-inch plasma screens or turning to consult more conventional military aids wall maps.
The scope and complexity of what is to come is evident from the blue-green blips on the maps and screens, representing the locations of ships and ground units as determined by electronic data beamed from satellites.
Central Command's area of responsibility includes 25 countries stretching from the Horn of Africa across to the former Soviet republics in Central Asia that border Afghanistan.
When the Gulf war was fought 12 years ago, phone-book-size documents providing the plans for each day's air assault had to be printed out and shipped from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to every aircraft carrier and air base in the region.
Now, the plans will be transmitted instantly in 10-megabyte chunks by encrypted e-mail, Cmdr. Wilson said.
Even more important, data coming in from the battlefield will be filtered, sorted and analyzed by computers at a speed that was unimaginable in 1991.
It can then be relayed through advanced communication equipment to Gen. Franks, wherever he may be from a war room next door to an airborne command center.
Computer-aided analysis will be also be used to determine exactly where any chemical or biological attack is coming from, what sort of agent is being used, and how quickly it is spreading, said Capt. William Valentin.
That will give commanders time to react, warn or divert troops, and neutralize the danger, said Capt. Valentin, one of three experts in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare who will monitor the battlefield from the command center around the clock.
The huge amount of data arriving in the command center will also allow Gen. Franks to "sit back and think," said Cmdr. Wilson. And it will make it easier to reduce civilian casualties that could inflame Arab and world opinion.
Gen. Franks will also be able to talk by videophone or in a videoconference with any commanders on the ground, in the air or at sea.
If needed, the screens will display real-time video from Predator drones flying above the battlefield.

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