Network Centric Warfare

By Kevin Coleman

Technology has influenced almost every aspect of our lives.It has brought about a "C" Change in business, society, politics, and defense.Strategic changes in the ways in which war is fought have occurred in recent years due primarily to advances in science and technology. The value of superior technology was clearly evident in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.Realistically the technology used to support those two conflicts is at least a decade old if not older.What new technology will evolve over the next decade that will further improve the military's capabilities on the battlefield? One technology sure to fall into that category is Network Centric Warfare (NCW).

Network Centric Warfare is military operations that are enabled by the fully integrated applications and information networking of the force. Network Centric Warfare enables the military to leverage extensive information to their advantage in an effort to dramatically increase combat effectiveness and efficiency through self-synchronization across the host of entities operating on the network.The experiences with early efforts to explore network centric operations have shown the value and benefits of extending the current state of NCW capabilities.The value of NCW has been recognized as a critical capability for the military's future at the most senior levels of the military and government.

"We must build forces that draw upon the revolutionary advances in the technology of that relies more heavily on stealth, precision weaponry, and information technologies."
George W.Bush,
Commander in Chief
The value of information to the field command and the entire command and control staff will increase exponentially once the entire battlefield is connected.The network infrastructure will enable capabilities that her to fore have not even been considered due to the complexity and dynamics of the information.

Current Strategy
The military's strategy for NCW is based upon their vision of what applications will drive the most value.Due to this constraint, the military must establish a set of priorities.Once these priorities have been established, a clear and concise set of goals for the program must be developed.These goals are the essence of the measurement system that will assess the progress and degree of success for the NCW program.The implementation of NCW will create significant change to the entire spectrum of the military organization.Key to the success of this initiative will be an agreed upon set of operational and technical standards upon which the military will have complete interoperability with allies.This set of standards will undoubtedly reach outside the US and possibly to all of NATO.

Conceptual Architecture
Critical to the successful development and evolution of the NCW technology is a component-based architecture that is extensible and secure. Each individual component must integrate into a platform that is easily deployed and coupled together by a self-healing, high bandwidth, dynamically encrypted wireless communications network.Each component used in field systems must be constructed so that any attempt to dismantle the equipment would result in the destruction of the device.This would further ensure the integrity of the entire NCW system.

Major Operational Components

  • Integrated Multi-platform Network
  • Secure Role Based Identity/Asset Management System
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) with Distribution Requirement Planning
  • Real-time Enough Automated Reporting Applications
  • Integrated Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID)
  • Graphical/Audible Information Interface
  • Integrated Asset Management & Monitoring System
  • Integrated Engagement Task Planning and Tracking System
Advances must be made in several key technologies before all the vale of NCW can be recognized.New mobile, highly speed, highly secure communications networks that can be deployed in minutes must be developed.Tamper-proof equipment packaging must be constructed in the event equipment is captured. New compression algorithms that significantly reduce the size of data packets transmitted from the vast array of information sources must be created to coincide with the advances in mobile network technology.Finally, an integrated component based application framework must be constructed to that supports plug-n-play components like GIS, RFID, and Sensor Arrays. Tightly coupled applications that support the logistical, dynamic resource allocation and strategic battlefield management will need to be written that exploit the advanced knowledge management aspects of NCW.Sounds like a substantial amount of work.It is.But the value derived from this capability is forecasted to far exceed the costs.

Future Direction
The network centric warfare system of the future will completely integrate every aspect of logistics and communications right down to the individual soldier (See Figure 1).The automated sharing of information at this level of integration will dramatically change the way conflicts are planned and executed.The real-time theater wide battlefield management system coupled with intelligent collaborative scenario planning systems will create the ability to retask units or division in seconds.This dynamic response capability created the competitive advantage over forces using traditional command and control techniques and technology.

Figure 1 (Click for larger image)

The future integrated NCW systems will have intelligent shoulder carried weapons and personnel monitors send information to their assigned vehicle. The vehicle system could report status of the vehicle, inventory of ammunition, fuel and other critical materials, status of personnel and their individual inventory to the engagement management system.The current assignment, status, and inventory of all vehicles, equipment and personnel of the unit would be provided to the division.The division's current assignment, status, and inventory of all soldiers, vehicles, and other equipment would be reported to the battlefield management system.And finally, all soldiers, vehicles, equipment and other assets operating within a given theater would report current status to the theater-wide operational command center.

Example Applications
The technical and operational evolution of NCW will occur over the next decade.Rapidly moving through the five stages of the technology maturity model this critical capability is forecasted to reach mass deployment and use near 2020.The five example applications illustrate the evolution and extension of integration anticipated for NCW.

  • Vehicle Based Systems
  • Integrated Weapons Systems
  • Battlefield Wide Systems
  • Theater Wide Systems
  • Integrated Individual Systems
Examining one of the five system configurations above, you can begin to see the value and capabilities of a sophisticated NCW system.Looking at the vehicle based systems you can see how information from the crew can be gathered and sent on to the higher-level command structure. Information like the number of persons, the identity of the individuals with their training records could be identified thus providing specialty skills information to engagement planners (See Figure 2).Monitors and sensors embedded within their uniforms could assess their medical condition and alert medical units if necessary.It could even be possible for the amount of ammunition carried in each clip by each individual to be captured and used for logistical planning.With all this information, the military planners will be able to dynamically allocate the right resources, with the right skills, with the right equipment from the closest location within an extremely minimized window of time.

Figure 2

This capability may seem to be decades away from reality with hundreds of millions of dollars of research being needed before the NCW is ready for prime time.The reality is that systems such as the ones described here are only several years off (see Figure 3).Given the current strategy that seeks to leverage commercial off-the-shelf software and hardware, the time to develop and deploy advanced NCW capabilities in the not so distant future is realistic.Many operational components required for a system such as this are in commercially available and in use today. Supply Chain software in use today by most corporations can serve as the basis for the logistics support and modeling.Commercially available computer aided dispatching (CAD) systems in use by police departments, emergency medical services and fire departments could also serve to accelerate the custom application components that specifically address the unique challenges faced by the military.The conceptual systems hardware requirements pose a bit more of a challenge.Hardened and tamper proof packaging technology must advances to protect the integrity of fielded systems in the event some of this equipment would fall into enemy hands.

While the development of a fully integrated and functional system will be difficult and not without risk, none of the challenges are seen to be insurmountable or pose an undo amount of risk.

Figure 3 (Click for larger image)

While the value of NCW is rarely questioned any longer, there are numerous areas of risk that will need to be managed.Careful attention must be given to cognitive information processing and visualization.The significant increase in information provided by and to the battlefield commanders could create an information overload situation resulting in slower decision making. Another significant area of concern is that the military planners may become reliant on the systems overtime that their manual process skills may be dulled.The capabilities described here only scratch the surface of capabilities in the planning and development stages under programs such as Joint Tactical Information Distribution Systems (JTIDS).Many advances that are more exciting are on the way.

Published Saturday, May 15th, 2004

Written by Kevin Coleman

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