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Network centric warfare transforming the u. S. Army

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The Concept of Network Centric Warfare – An Executive Summary

A new American way of war has emerged – network centric operations

Vice Admiral (Retired) Arthur Cebrowski, Director, OFT9

Much has been written over the past few years on the concept and potential benefits of NCW. This section summarizes some of this intellectual thought to provide a succinct description of the essence of this information age concept of operations.

A commonly accepted definition of NCW is that provided by David Alberts, John Garstka, and Fred Stein in Network Centric Warfare, Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority. This reference defines network centric warfare as:

Network Centric Warfare

“An information superiority-enabled concept of operations that generates increased combat power by networking sensors, decision makers, and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and a degree of self-synchronization.”10

This definition postulates revolutionary changes to existing capabilities achieved through networking sensors, shooters and decision makers. Consideration of the potential power of networking and the underlying tenets of NCW aids in understating and applying this definition.

Potential Power of Networking

Network Centric Warfare is not about the “network” but about the ability to share information through the power of networking.11 One of the best ways to articulate this potential power is consideration the Internet-enabled information “explosion.” The birth of the Internet occurred in late 1969 when government and academia connected four host computers to form a network known as ARPANET.12 Over the succeeding two decades, the number of network nodes grew modestly, limited mainly by immature infrastructure and the lack of common user interfaces, protocols and applications. When advances in technology mitigated these factors, the Internet became “real.” Today, there are millions of nodes connected to the Internet and the corresponding number of interactions has grown exponentially.

Although the ability to connect nodes is significant, the real value rests in the ability to exchange information and collaborate across the network. Roger Roberts suggests that the value of the Internet is that it acts like “a living entity that is constantly receiving new data, cataloging it, and storing it so that those in search can find the most up to date information easily and quickly.”13 Roberts offers that NCW concepts provide the ways to “use the power of the network to access information from far reaching resources in order to make timely, effective, and sometimes life saving decisions.”14 This characterization highlights the fundamental value of networking – the ability to share relevant information quickly across the entire enterprise.

The commercial sector was one of the first to take full advantage of the Internet-enabled method of exchanging information. By leveraging the power of networking, new methods of doing business emerged where information superiority became the enabler of maintaining a competitive advantage in the market place. These concepts enabled electronic business, a revolutionary change that is now common place.

Some suggest that the terms “network-centric operations” and “network-centric warfare” describe military operations “in the same way that the terms ‘e-business’ and ‘e-commerce’ describe a broad class of business activities enabled by the Internet.”15 Review of NCW tenets and their application to the domains of warfare provides insight into this suggested relationship.

Tenets of Network Centric Warfare and the Domains of War

The 2001 DoD NCW Report to Congress provides four NCW tenets and describes their application to the domains of warfare.16 These tenets (Table 1) and their underlying attributes provide insight into how the Army can achieve a competitive advantage through networking.

Tenets of Network Centric Warfare

  • A robustly networked force improves information sharing

  • Information sharing enhances the quality of information and shared situational awareness.

  • Shared situational awareness enables collaboration and self-synchronization

  • These, in turn, dramatically increase mission effectiveness

Table 1: Tenets of Network Centric Warfare

The first tenet builds on the power of information sharing as “a source of potential value.”17 A robust network implies an interoperable infrastructure that enables the force to share, access, and protect information quicker and more efficiently than its adversaries, thereby achieving information superiority. Army Vision 2010 defines information superiority as follows:

Information Superiority

“The capability to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information while exploiting or denying an adversary's ability to do the same.”18

Information superiority is not an end state – but a relative state achieved when the ability to exploit information advantages creates a competitive advantage over any adversary.

The second tenet suggests that networking the force provides a higher level of situational awareness that subsequently enables the Army to “deploy a more focused and lethal force by providing frontline war fighters with critical information, including a near real time view of the battlefield.”19 Networking enables the force to gather raw data, transform it into relevant information that creates a shared understanding of the “threats and assets”20 in the battle space where both the enemy and friendly forces are seen as “complex, adaptive systems, composed of many systems and subsystems.”21 As such, information superiority provides the means to generate decision superiority to achieve desired results. Joint Vision 2020 defines decision superiority as “better decisions arrived at and implemented faster than an opponent can react, or in a non-combat situation, at a tempo that allows the force to shape the situation or react to changes and accomplish its mission.”22

The third tenet highlights the value of collaboration and self synchronization. One NCW goal is to reach a collaborative state by having all operations networked, with “the right item at the right place at the right time.”23 Some NCW advocates declare that NCW comes down to “harnessing the collaborative behavior that results from ever-faster access to information.”24 Clearly, NCW provides an environment where “collaboration between platforms, systems and devices is possible.”25 This environment supports the doctrinal imperative that “the commander who can gather information and make decisions faster and better will generate a quicker tempo of operations and gain a decided military advantage.”26

The final tenet implies that the information superiority achieved through application of NCW concepts provides the means to achieve full spectrum dominance27 by supporting the capabilities of dominant maneuver, precision engagement, focused logistics, and full dimensional protection envisioned in Joint Vision 2020.28 Through collaboration and self-synchronization, a network centric force can rapidly maneuver a lethal force to the decisive point on the battlefield and achieve the desired effect with unparalleled precision. Network centric operational concepts elevate the value of information over mass to enable employment of a lighter force that is easier to support logistically. As a result, network enabled logisticians can provide the fighting force the resources it needs when it needs them without relying on vast logistic stocks in theater. Finally, through radically improved understanding of both the friendly and enemy situations, the force can achieve full dimensional protection by dramatically reducing incidents of fratricide and avoiding enemy strengths on the battlefield.

Applying these tenets to the domains of warfare yields additional insight into where NCW “fits” in the overall conduct of military operations. The DoD NCW Report to Congress provides that warfare occurs simultaneously in the physical, cognitive and informational domains. The physical domain is the “traditional domain of warfare…where strike, protect, and maneuver takes place.”29 The cognitive domain is the “domain of the mind of the war fighter… where many battles and wars and won and lost.”30 The information domain is the domain where “information is created, manipulated and shared.”31 Intersections between these domains shown graphically in Figure 1 present opportunities for transforming the conduct of warfare.

Figure 1: Relationship Between NCW and the Domains of Warfare32

Defense analysts in the DoD Office of Force Transformation (OFT) contend that the intersection of the physical and informational domains of warfare enables the application of a joint, precision force.33 The intersection of the information and cognitive domains enables shared awareness and tactical innovation.34 And finally, the intersection between the physical and cognitive domains is where time compression occurs and where tactics achieve operational and strategic effects. This intersection is also where high rates of change are developed and achieved. 35 NCW “exists at the center where the three warfare domains intersect.”36

Finally, NCW advocates postulate that the information age creates a new rule set for the conduct of warfare, where NCW plays a significant role and where the things that are valued shifts.37 Table 2 provides a summary of this proposed new rule set.

The New Rules

Network Centric Warfare

High rates of change

Closely coupled events

Lock in/out

Speed of command


What’s Valued



Envelope Management



Risk tolerance

Staying power

Table 2: Changing Rule Set in the Information Age38

The potential power of networking and conceptual theory behind NCW clearly underscores our strategic leaders’ enthusiasm for this new concept. The challenge, however, is translating this conceptual framework into a coherent application across the Army to achieve the potential benefits it offers.
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