Request for Information (RFI) – The Military’s Most Important Unknown Program

Contributor:  Nick Younker
Posted:  04/13/2010  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Today’s military landscape and battlefield is constantly changing.  Information has become the new weapon of mass destruction and it is how a superior military gains tremendous advantage over a weaker one.  A small force equipped with vital and timely information can decisively defeat a much larger one.

In ancient times and up until only about a hundred years ago commanders relied upon messengers and scouts to gather information about terrain or the enemy and carry it back via message.  Friendly forces were forced to communicate in the same painfully slow way and it crippled the ability to make informed decisions.  Commanders often relied solely on best guess or last word received.

In today’s environment of modern technology, computers, and satellites things have changed dramatically.  Information is now at our fingertips and is pushed so frequently and in such large quantities that it is now a problem sorting through the mess to find what is actually useful.  The problem now has become getting the right information at the right time and being able to use it to achieve a meaningful result.  It is something that could potentially change the momentum of a conflict or the course of a war.

All branches of the military have tried to work through this problem and get all members of the chain of command the information they need as soon as it becomes available.  The answer so far has come in the form of a program called Request For Information or more commonly the RFI program.  The RFI program exists at all major commands to include joint commands or joint task forces.

The RFI program runs differently at each command depending on the service branch, but the fundamentals are essentially the same.  It has a program manager, usually a mid-grade officer who oversees the day to day operation and reports to a senior officer who usually will brief the commander on the highlights.  This program has become a lynchpin and in many cases can hold the keys to a successful mission just as much as bombs or missiles can.

The program like any other has evolved.  It started with email and now has been adapted into a web portal at many commands.  The web portal which exists on both unclassified and classified networks is moderated by an RFI manager.  It allows for information sharing between branches of the military service, outside government agencies, and even foreign allies.

The portal allows a user to input a question or a request for information.  The RFI manager will then review the request and direct it to the party that can provide an appropriate answer.   The answer is posted directly to the portal.  The two parties can then contact each other if necessary for clarification or for further inquiries.   This puts both users into direct contact and cuts out the middle man.

Any user with access can view the entire list of requests and answers to avoid asking the same question multiple times.  This allows for seamless information sharing and reduces precious time that warfighters can put to better use.

As the RFI program continues to develop and improve it will be a critical resource that is constantly being used in the background to ensure mission accomplishment and to gain advantage in an increasingly high speed digital battlefield.  Commanders will continue to increasingly rely on information sharing and programs like RFI as much as they do on jets, helicopters, and tanks.

Nick Younker Contributor:   Nick Younker


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