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Network centric warfare transforming the u. S. Army

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From Platform Centric to Network Centric – Applying the NCW Concept

To fight and win our nation’s wars, the 21st century U.S. Army must rapidly transform to a net-centric, knowledge based force.

LTG Steven Boutelle, U.S. Army Chief Information Officer/G-639

Practical application remains the key to understanding the transformational nature of NCW. This section offers a comparison of platform centric and network centric operations to reveal opportunities for transforming the force. Analysis of this comparison with examples from recent combat operations provides insight into the potential of NCW concepts.

The 2003 Defense Transformation Planning Guidance defines transformation as a “process that shapes the changing nature of military competition and cooperation through new combinations of concepts, capabilities, people and organizations that exploit our nation’s advantages and protect against our asymmetric vulnerabilities to sustain our strategic position, which helps underpin peace and stability in the world”40 As such, the transformational nature of NCW rests in the degree to which it shapes the nature of military competition and cooperation.

The Joint Staff publication entitled An Evolving Joint Perspective: US Joint Warfare and Crisis Resolution in the 21st Century 41 provides areas for comparison between current, platform centric operations and those conducted under a network centric construct. For the purposes of this comparison, platform centric operations are characterized by traditional military platforms linked by voice or data link that detect and identify targets, decide whether to engage the target, convey the decision to a weapons platform, and employ weapons on the target.42 Network centric operations entail the networking of sensors, decision makers, and shooters to achieve the potential benefits of NCW.

Platform Centric Operations
Network Centric Operations

Closed, service-centric architecture systems

Fully integrated / networked joint C4ISR architecture and modular “plug and play” capabilities that tie military and civilian architectures

A long and involved sensor-to-shooter decision making sequence

Information, subsequent decisions, and actions are near simultaneous.

Material Node-centric system with emphasis on vertical connectivity

A joint capabilities-based system with emphasis on horizontal connectivity.

Service Platforms employed in a de-conflicted and coordinated manner to accomplish the operational or strategic objectives

Joint platforms integrated with common systems and a shared picture designed to provide a synergistic capability to achieve effects desired

Requires translation from Information Superiority into combat power through deconfliction process to ensure clearance, no duplication and commanders intent are met

Rapidly translates Knowledge superiority into combat power by effectively inter-linking knowledgeable entities with C2 structure throughout the battle space.

Table 3: Comparison of Platform and Network Centric Operations43

The first point of comparison is the command, control and communications (C3) architectures used to support operational requirements. Platform centric operations typically involve service-centric architectures that, because of their proprietary nature, do not communicate effectively with external entities. They are inherently hierarchal and linear, following traditional chains of command. Under a network centric operational construct, C3 systems are integrated into an enterprise-wide C4ISR architecture44 that includes both traditional military platforms as well as non-traditional DoD civilian entities. The envisioned C4ISR architecture is achieved through employment of open systems architectures with common user interfaces and protocols that enable all nodes on the network to connect and communicate efficiently. This architecture enables new entities to “plug” into the network and “play” in the same way that computers and peripheral devices can plug into an existing network and operate immediately with little reconfiguration or user effort. This “plug and play” approach is not limited to military forces; it includes potential integration of interagency and multinational collaboration and operational employment.45

A critical enabler to achieve the fully integrated C4ISR architecture necessary to support NCW is the Global Information Grid (GIG). The GIG is the “globally interconnected, end-to-end set of information capabilities, associated processes, and personnel for collecting, processing, storing, disseminating and managing information on demand to war fighters, policy makers, and support personnel.”46 In some respects, the GIG is the “entry fee” for network centric operations and is essential for maintaining a fully integrated network that provides the “environment for decision superiority.”47

Application of NCW capabilities in the form of an integrated C4ISR architecture was evidenced by the success of special operations forces (SOF) during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. Brigadier General James Parker, director of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Center for Intelligence and Information Operations offers that SOF forces in Afghanistan were “empowered by shared situational awareness and robust communications” infrastructure.48 He explains that the “adoption of network-centric capabilities laid the groundwork for success in Afghanistan…giving SOF greater access to vital information and creating an environment that allowed greater flexibility of SOF personnel and those equipping and supporting them.”49

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Iraq provides similar insights of the transformational benefits achieved through C4ISR integration. Brigadier General Dennis Moran, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) J6 argues that CENTCOM “validated the concept of NCW and the need for communication, command and control (C2) and ISR systems to be hooked up to, and interoperable with, the Global Information Grid and to be adaptable to whatever circumstances are on the battlefield.”50 He offers that “CENTCOM had a common operating picture of both friendly and enemy forces that could be shared at all levels of command, from strategic to operational and tactical. Each of the services brought its full family of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems to the battle which produced mountains of intelligence.”51

The second point of comparison between platform centric and network centric operations is the speed of the observe, decide, act and assess cycle, 52 commonly referred to as the observe, orient, decide, act (OODA) loop. This cycle begins with sensor observation and target characterization, and subsequent decisions on whether or not to engage them. Shooter selection ensues based on target type and known shooter availability. In the platform centric environment, this cycle is linear with considerable latency. In some cases, excessive time requirements limit the potential number of targets engaged. Additionally, the platform centric environment with inherent communication architecture constraints precludes access to sensor information and application of shooter resources between the levels of command. As such, the OODA loop is essentially limited to application at the tactical level of sensors, shooters and decision makers.

The network centric operational environment radically transforms the OODA loop. Although fundamental concepts remain, the efficient networking of sensors, decision makers and shooters enables these processes to occur in near simultaneous fashion. Through enhanced situation awareness provided by the GIG, hostile targets are easily identified, reducing the time required for target characterization. Sensors networked to decision makers and networked shooters enable the near simultaneous execution of targets contained in the engagement grid.53 The robust C4ISR architecture greatly expands access to sensor information and provides the means to employ the full range of shooters to include strategic resources. Similarly, it allows leaders at all levels of command, from tactical up to national command authority level, to engage in the decision making process for strategic and time sensitive targets without significant latency in the process. As such, NCW essentially compresses the levels of command.

Figure 2 provides a logical model of the relationship between networked sensors, decision makers and shooters. The entities displayed in this figure are not limited to any level of war; they may include tactical, operational or strategic sensors, shooters and decision makers engaged simultaneously.

Figure 2: Logical Model of NCW relationships54

Application of NCW concepts in accelerating the OODA loop and compressing the levels of command was evident during OEF and used extensively throughout the battlefield during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). A Jane’s Defence Weekly article offers that “the ability to transmit, receive and view data in real time across the coalition spectrum was practiced in an embryonic capacity in Afghanistan and honed in Iraq.”55 The article highlights the events and short timelines involved with the pre-invasion attempt to decapitate the Iraqi dictator. Intelligence of Saddam’s location was transmitted rapidly and simultaneously to strategic leaders at the national level and allied air planners in theater. A strategic B-1B bomber then engaged the target within about 12 minutes of the initial sensor report. 56 This rapid application of force to achieve the desired effect was possible through the networking of sensors, shooters and decision makers at the all levels of command.

The transformational change in dramatically reduced latency and enhanced effectiveness of the OODA loop “demonstrated just how effective a network-centric force can be on the battlefield.”57 Vice Admiral Cebrowski contends that OIF lessons learned will reveal that “good sensors, networked with good intelligence, disseminated through a robust network of systems”58 increased the pace of operations leading to the rapid defeat of numerically superior Iraqi forces.

The final point of comparison is the method used to generate combat power and the underlying decision making processes involved. The platform centric approach generates combat power through a deconfliction process that clears operations, eliminates duplication, and ensures the commander’s intent is met through hierarchal organizational arrangements. This construct requires the movement of information collected at the edges toward the center for decision making.59 Generating combat power in an NCW environment, by comparison, is “all about changing decision making processes and topologies. It relies on an information age model where the edge is empowered to make decisions based on command intent and high quality situational awareness.”60 This radical shift in decision making processes and topologies and renewed emphasis on collaboration is clearly at the heart of the NCW concept. This shift generates considerable combat power and shapes the nature of competition.

SOF elements deployed during OEF achieved significant decision making enhancements through the application of NCW concepts. Specifically, they employed a “collaborative tool suite, known as the SOF Digital Environment (SDE)” in Afghanistan to provide “situational awareness, collaboration and mission planning.”61 As a result, they were able to “plan future missions and monitor ongoing missions from several locations.”62

Similarly, use of a blue force tracking mechanism known as Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) was “one of the success stories of OIF.”63 This system enhanced decision making and the speed of command for ground forces during OIF by providing the means to interlink knowledgeable entities throughout the battle space with command and control structures. The resulting situational awareness enabled the application of overwhelming combat power that led to the rapid destruction of belligerent Iraqi forces.

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