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Network-Centric WarfareMore than Just Technology
As news rolled out of Iraqand before that, from Afghanistanmore and more stories spoke of "network-centric warfare." The reports focused on troops using global positioning systems (GPS), advanced data links, and high-powered computers to relay information between command centers and troops, speeding the pace of surveillance and reconnaissance in support of combat. There were discussions of cutting-edge technology such as smart bombs, collaboration tools, and satellite-based tracking, which provided unprecedented levels of situation awareness and precision engagement, even under adverse conditions. The U.S. Army's 4th Infantrythe military's first "all-digital" forcedemonstrated yet another level of integrating information into warfighting tactics.
And while technology is indeed central to the transformation of military operations, one of the fathers of the network-centric revolution believes that describing network-centric warfare (NCW) purely in terms of advances in information tools misses the larger picture.
"NCW is all about relationships, adaptability, and change, with information technology allowing it to happen," says Fred Stein, a retired Army colonel, now MITRE's senior principal engineer for network-centric warfare, as well as director of the corporation's Fort Hood, Texas, site. Stein and co-authors David Alberts and John Garstka literally wrote the book on the subject. Their 1999 publication, Network Centric Warfare: Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority, 2nd Edition (CCRP Publication Series) is considered by many to be the seminal work in the field. Stein is now working with a large MITRE team on NCW programs.
Recent Conflicts Demonstrated the Basics of NCW
Fundamentally, the concept of NCW (also known as network-centric operations, or NCO) is about the relationships among things and people on the battlefield, as well as achieving and maintaining information superioritythat is, defeating or deterring the enemy by getting the right information to the right place in the right format at the right level of precision and accuracy at the right time. NCW uses information for the benefit of the warfighter, during both peacetime and wartime.
The recent war in Iraq demonstrates the new power of the network. Stein points to General Tommy Franks, commander of the coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Afghanistan, who summed up many of the lessons learned recently about NCW. "General. Franks said that Afghanistan was a laboratory for military transformation," Stein says. "Lessons from Afghanistan were applied on a broader scale in Iraq. He said, 'We learned precision [bombing] is good and it makes the difference. We learned small units on the ground leveraging airpower are powerful. We learned the linkage of intel operations with military operations is very powerful.'"
Most important, Stein says, is the concept of vision. "The military calls it situational or battlefield awareness. With new technology, commanders can see in real time where the enemy is and where their own forces are as well. Drones, radar planes, and other surveillance resources spied constantly on Iraqi forces. Transponders with each American unit signaled their location. With this technology, said General Franks,'I am watching the transformation of warfare.'"
Stein adds, "NCW exploits advances in information age technology to connect battlespace entities—such as aircraft, ships, tanks, and intelligence sensors—to each other as well as to command and control centers. This connectivity will speed the pace of conflict, enhancing accuracy and increasing the survival rate of warfighters and noncombatants."
Organizational Change = Meeting of Minds
Equally important as the changes going on in the field, however, are the ones behind the scenes. Besides taking advantage of advances in hardware, software, and the Internet, NCW will give rise to new models for information interchange across the military services, helping to drive the Department of Defense's (DOD) military transformation initiatives for the 21st century. Achieving NCW means achieving real communication, not just in the sense of “my radio can talk to your radio,” but also in the sense of reaching a meeting of minds. It means breaking down organizational barriersby using advanced information technology.
"NCW is the key to the revolution in military affairs," Stein says. "As a concept, all the U.S. armed services have been experimenting with and exercising NCW for several years to better understand and exploit it as a new method of conducting operations. It's not narrowly about technology, but broadly about an emerging military response to the information age."
Empowering Personnel through Cooperation
"It's important to note, however, that NCW does not change the nature of war, nor the importance of the soldier, sailor, and airman," Stein says. In fact, in the book Network Centric Warfare, he stresses that "NCW is about developing collaborative working environments for commanders, and indeed all our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, to make it easier to develop common perceptions of the situation and achieve self-coordinated responses to situations." This sharing of information and decision-making throughout the ranks is sometimes referred to as giving "power to the edges."
Ray Haller, vice president of MITRE's Washington Center for Command, Control, and Communications, has been involved with NCW for many years and says that a concept called the "warrior-associate" is a prime example of promoting power to the edges. "For example: let's say a warfighter needs to know if there's any recent enemy activity in the area. Using the net, the warfighter calls up his warrior-associate [who is most likely working at a digital command center] and asks for the latest intelligence in the area of interest—such as enemy troop movements or the latest weather conditions—for help vetting his course of action."
Stein admits the idea of such a collaborative environment makes some people uncomfortable because it requires sharing information among services and among different ranks. Nevertheless, the various military branches have already begun putting the concept to the testboth in experiments and in the real world, as General Franks' remarks make clear.
"There are many recent examples of the use of NCW during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom," Stein says. "For instance, in Afghanistan, a link from Special Operations to Navy aircraft to Air Force command and control aircraft to B-52s was established on the fly, resulting in an extremely effective air-to-ground support mission." People shared what they knew over systems that allowed them to make decisions in real time. The director of the U.S. Special Operations Command's Center for Intelligence and Information Operations recently announced that many of its recent successes can be traced directly to a commitment to network-centric concepts.
Stein, for one, isn't surprised. He began thinking deeply about network-centric concepts back in 1995 when he and future co-author Garstka were asked by Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski to study ways to best achieve the goals of the joint services' Joint Vision 2010. (At the time, Stein was assigned to duty with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) He and his colleagues quickly realized that information superiority was the answer.
"I'm heartened by the acceptance of the concept as a mental model for warfare," Stein says. "And it's survived what I call its 'bumper sticker' phase. It's being used to think about the future—not just as a catch phrase for funding."
He notes that the founding of the DOD's Office of Force Transformation—headed by Cebrowski, with Garstka as assistant director for concepts and operations—has played a big role in this acceptance. "There has been a recognition that as we moved further into the information age the armed forces had to transform into something different," Stein says. Some of those changes involve adopting commercial-sector attitudes toward flexibility and speed, while other changes involve technical interoperability and information sharing.
"Shared situation awareness implies a shared repository of data for different people to draw on, but tailored to each one's needs," Haller says. "For instance, a Special Ops guy has different needs than an aircraft commander. Depending on the situation, some warfighters need local sensors to judge their environment, while others need network or global information [for example, about troop movements or approaching weather patterns]. There's value in both local and network information. That's why we're so interested in finding better ways to improve the two-way flow of information—from the net to the user and back to the net."
Ray Shulstad, general manager of MITRE’s Center for Air Force Command and Control Systems, points to MITRE’s work with the Air Force’s “Cursor on Target” program as an example. Traditionally, time critical targeting involved extensive, error prone calculations along with many voice transmissions of 22 digit precision coordinates among warfighters and commanders, who manually exchanged information between systems. Cursor on Target significantly improves both the speed and accuracy by providing machine-to-machine integration, eliminating human transcription. Special tactics forces on the ground can now point and click laser rangefinders and have machine-to-machine transmission of target coordinates across the battlefield, up to fighters, and into precision-guided munitions. As General John Jumper, Chief of Staff for the Air Force, noted after reviewing this work, "The sum of all wisdom is a cursor over the target.”
MITRE and NCW
MITRE has supported the development of the network-centric military for nearly a decade. Three of our major customersthe U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy, respectivelyrely on MITRE to help make it a reality. Although we act as systems engineer for many elements that contribute to NCW, some of our most notable achievements so far have involved developing architectures to guide and evolve the concept.
"MITRE has the advantage of operating across all the U.S. forces, as well as with organizations such as NATO," Stein says. "We have a multidisciplinary approach that plays a role in all the products operating in the NCW environment."
As its chief engineer, MITRE helped the Air Force's Electronics Systems Center develop a command and control (C2) architecture. This architecture puts forth a framework for a "system of systems," focusing on three main components: operational, system, and technical. For Air Force Space Command, we proposed that the organization acquire its new integrated C2 system through a network-centric architecture format, rather than with a rigid set of specifications. This leaves room in the future for design and capability changes, based on needs of the time, not strictly the needs identified at the moment the contract was written. When the prime contractor signed on, it marked the first time such a large acquisition was guided in this way.
For the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control, and Communications Tactical, we act as the architect and chief engineer for command, control, and communications systems. Over the last 10 years, our role has shifted from developing specific capabilities to the broader system-of-systems approach required for network-centric operations. MITRE personnel have contributed extensively to the Army's Tactical Internet initiative, helping to design the architecture, provide systems engineering and testing expertise, assist with the integration of commercial-off-the-shelf software, and work with contractors to select the best available technology.
For the Navy, we have been integral to the development of programs such as FORCEnet and the Web-enabled Navy. FORCEnet, the Navy's overall conceptualization of network-centric operations, is designed to use information superiority to help adapt to today's smaller fleet size and reduced port access. In a related effort, MITRE was chief architect and systems integrator for the Web-enabled Navy (WEN), one of the crucial elements of naval NCW. With WEN, naval personnel can use Web portals to connect personnel and systems throughout the world.
A Broad View for our Customers
MITRE's work extends beyond specific branches of the military to the DOD as whole. In 2001, when Congress asked the DOD to describe its efforts for developing and implementing network-centric concepts within the military, MITRE helped the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence write the 200-page DOD response.
Stein notes that MITRE also does "original, practical-level research in computer security, network theory, data mining, bandwidth optimization, sensors, and improving communication through advanced computer languages, such as XML. These are all areas related to achieving network-centric environments."
To help keep up with the sheer size and scope of the company's work in NCW, Stein and some of his colleagues recently started an internal company web site called the MITRE Network Centric Warfare E-Community. Staff members from throughout the corporation now have the ability to read about recent advances in NCW, share their experiences in online forums, and disseminate lessons learned to their fellow researchersall in one easily accessible location.
A Never-Ending Story
While many challenges lie ahead, both technical (adequate bandwidth, real interoperability between communication systems) and organizational (breaking down "stovepipes," ceding some of the traditional control to different individuals throughout a battle theater), Stein believes that NCW will succeed.
"NCW is inherently complex," he says. "The fundamental challenge is to find flexible, simple, elegant engineering systems to handle complex relationships. A concept like NCW never stops changing, it's never fully mature. And by the very nature of MITRE, we'll always be involved in it."
—by Alison Stern-Dunyak
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Page last updated: April 12, 2004 | Top of page
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