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CHIPS Articles: Japan's "3/11" Triple Disaster

Japan's "3/11" Triple Disaster
A call for a new lessons learned paradigm for Navy Information
By Cmdr. Steve Jacobs - July-September 2011
The disasters that occurred in Japan March 11, 2011, are nearly beyond imagination. It is doubtful that any exercise scenario could capture the catastrophic implications of a combined earthquake, tsunami and three damaged nuclear reactor cores, and the subsequent international assistance response. U.S. combined operations in support of search and rescue, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), consequence management, U.S. military assisted voluntary departure of family members and major continuity of operations (COOP) crisis planning and implementation were without precedent.

The combined, complex operations tested all aspects of U.S. Navy, joint and coalition doctrine, command and control, and information sharing. The events present a rare opportunity to refine C2 doctrine, requirements, and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for very complex, real-world contingency operations. This opportunity should not be lost to study, but rather serve as catalyst to review valuable lessons learned for advancing information dominance. The opportunity should be taken to study why some lessons had to be relearned and to transform the Navy and joint lessons learned systems into resolution processes, instead of archives to store past lessons.

Continuous process improvement, capturing lessons and implementing improved information sharing and means of executing C2 under these arduous conditions align with the Chief of Naval Operations' desire to codify processes for leading the future "Implementation of Navy Information Dominance" as described in his letter to "All Navy Admirals and Vice Admirals" of March 20, 2011.

The CNO directs specific actions to advance capability and proficiency in the information domain, and he assigned stakeholder organizations of Navy information dominance to lead and support roles in this task. While the CNO's letter is not specifically related to the Navy's HA/DR efforts in Japan, it clearly addresses the same challenges of lessons relearned. The responsible organizations have now been empowered to focus on deliberate, long-term after action processes.

Operation Tomodachi, meaning "friend" in Japanese, presented lessons collected from the crisis that span all aspects of information exchange processes and information technology implementation. While some obvious observations and recurring lessons learned should lead to immediate improvements in requirements, doctrine or TTPs, such as establishing an operations center with a sufficient number of unclassified computers, many lessons are more nuanced because of the complexity of the operations and will require analysis to decide the best approach for resolution. A good example is the difficulty of delivering information across domains of different classifications.

Many lessons demand a sense of urgency for correction before memories fade or leadership forgets. Often urgency and resolving complex challenges don't go hand-in-hand, especially when exercising fiscal restraint. It is time to refine the lessons learned paradigm into a deliberate and methodical process. This approach could use the existing Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLIS), but in a transformative way to improve the entire lessons learned process by determining and addressing root causes of issues and recommending more comprehensive resolution actions.

Lessons learned should then be incorporated into existing training and experimentation venues within the fleet. This will lead to more valuable exercises, experimentation, wargaming, and a new concept of operations (CONOPS) in the information disciplines.

On the information sharing side, there is a set of lessons addressing unclassified collaboration and information sharing needs during Operation Tomodachi. The All Partners Access Network ( is the U.S. Pacific Command owned and operated unclassified collaboration venue for HA/DR planning that allows interagency, joint, coalition and non-governmental organizations participation. However, there was a need for, but a lack of, a comprehensive unclassified common operational picture (COP), which would have provided shared situational awareness of all HA/DR participants for decision makers.

PACOM created an unlisted, non-advertised APAN group, known as the Virtual Civil Military Operations Center (VCMOC), accessible only by invitation. From a military perspective, one limitation of APAN is that unclassified content from military classified systems is not readily portable to APAN and downgrading classified content is not a simple process.

Both of these capabilities would need a defined process for future use because finding a method during a crisis normally makes any success a temporary local solution. Delivering content across classifications with the ability to downgrade classifications readily are processes frequently found in the Navy Lessons Learned Information System (NLLIS).

To ensure APAN use is inculcated into HA/DR processes, joint task force and carrier strike group workups should include APAN accounts and use in an HA/DR scenario. This would include ensuring key staff planners and knowledge managers understand information sharing capabilities and shortfalls. For example, from initial relief efforts, APAN was adopted quickly, but the capabilities of APAN were not well-known by watchstanders due to its minimal use in Japan theater exercises, and little formal standing doctrine, TTPs or CONOPs existed for its usage.

The formal adoption of APAN as the unclassified collaboration tool of choice was also slowed by a shortage of unclassified network workstations in some operational command centers.

When integrating APAN into existing operations centers, capabilities shortfalls were discovered and some solutions were implemented on the fly. The final choice for establishing a COP was the continued use of the secret bilateral Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System-Japan (CENTRIXSJPN). Thus, the desired unclassified data sharing was not accomplished in an automated system. Refining the use of APAN and the delivery of an unclassified COP capability are recommended and will require significant work by the stakeholders identified in the CNO's March 20 letter to ensure development and integration into future exercises and events on a worldwide basis.

The need to inculcate the lessons of the information technology used in HA/DR operations into training, operations, doctrine and TTPs is a common NLLIS lesson. The Information Dominance Corps should partner with pertinent Navy organizations as part of a future Navy lessons learned process to continually move purchased solutions and installed technologies into the realm of fully delivered information dominance capabilities.

Many Navy information sharing lessons learned from Tomodachi are much more complex at best or even ambiguous at worst. These lessons require analysis to develop more complete response options for future use. One longstanding example is the ad hoc C2 structure of disparate information systems at each echelon when forming new coalitions, JTFs or larger organizational alignments that include interagency entities and NGOs.

After the disasters, a Joint Support Force Japan network was stood up on U.S. Forces Japan systems along with JTF 505 with III Marine Expeditionary Force as the commander. JTF 505 was activated by PACOM to facilitate the orderly processing and departure of American citizens and designated foreign nationals to safe havens. These organizations had to form quickly and then operate in synchronization with their superiors, component commanders and coalition partners.

Synchronization was very difficult when forces operated on different networks at home stations and then deployed to other installations to work on different networks. This situation is nothing new to Navy operators, but advanced study is needed to recommend actions to correct C2 and information system shortcomings, and to avoid relearning this lesson again in the future.

Ultimately, a theater or even overarching Defense Department architecture is recommended based on common and approved standards for joint forces for plug and play operations. It is a known shortcoming in the Far East area of operations that the many service and joint networks and enclaves are sometimes not compatible when applying applications across them. The right attention is needed to recommend consistent and standardized corrective actions.

PACOM is leading the coalition effort for enhancing the interoperability of CENTRIXS enclaves, but much more work is recommended for advancing coalition networking and multilevel security by information dominance stakeholders. Once the technical piece is sorted out, training scenarios should be regularly practiced that include use of the revised architecture and information sharing processes.

Network, software and hardware interoperability requirements are common lessons in the NLLIS and fortunately are getting a great deal of attention with many positive results. This category of lessons will need constant attention in any Navy lessons learned process and in systems acquisition for the foreseeable future.

Another area for serious examination was the need for quick alterations to Navy information assurance policies to keep up with the rapidly changing C2 architecture and multimission nature of Operation Tomodachi. Policies were temporarily modified for use of removable USB hard drives and controlled cryptographic items storage to support COOP planning and implementation.

Public affairs officers and COOP planners quickly required larger email mailboxes and turned to commercial cellular Internet providers for greater capabilities and operational flexibility. Network owners built temporary firewall-protected communities of interest to allow other services to tunnel through networks.

After the dust settles, an examination of how these lessons could be used to develop doctrine and requirements at the operational level should be done. Each change should be understood and considered for a deeper look at IT policies to determine more permanent solutions that are aligned within DoD. While improved technology and training are important to formalize procedures, they alone are not the only answers. Organizational changes and alignments are also recommended to truly improve the lessons learned process.

The volume and complexity of collecting, analyzing and implementing lessons learned in a chain of corrective actions is so great that it should not be the sole responsibility of the commands directly involved in the operations. Lessons learned should be evaluated in the context of the larger joint and interagency effort, which may not be apparent at the unit level.

A well-known weakness in the lessons learned process is that lessons are recorded but often left unresolved. Difficulties with resolution range from unclear responsibility, to lessons that are so complex that they require many diverse organizations and expertise to develop solutions. Other impediments include identifying solutions sets that are repeatable, fundable, measurable and able to be successfully implemented.

A good example from Operation Tomodachi is the difficulties with scheduling and conducting video teleconferences so that all the required organizations could attend. Conducting a VTC in a high OPTEMPO environment when the number of participants and bridge connections are increased above day-to-day operations or exercises is difficult to say the least.

More stress was added to the VTC infrastructure by the constant evolution of the Tomodachi battle rhythm because conference times, configuration and participation were rapidly changing. Establishing a solution requires technical, process and organizational alignments done at a leadership level to ensure resolution since interservice and interagency interoperability gaps are common lessons in NLLIS.

So what does the future of the lessons learned process look like? If one follows the blueprint of the CNO's letter, it appears stakeholders will work as a team but within specific areas of responsibility. The critical density for change would be generated by the singleness of direction from these various organizations. Addressing the details of the numerous lessons learned and recommendations associated with APAN could comprehensively address a single, worldwide "system of systems" HA/DR collaboration solution.

Cmdr. Steve Jacobs is an information professional officer and member of the Information Dominance Corps. He is the Commander, Naval Forces Japan assistant chief of staff for C4I and Commander, Navy Region Japan chief information officer.
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