Information Warfare Pioneers Take Top Pentagon Positions

By Elizabeth Book

Military planners and policymakers, for many years, have advocated the need to increase the interoperability of computer networks for battlefield use. Although some progress has been achieved, the reality today is that network-centric warfare is more of an academic concept than an operational reality.

Things could change in the future, however, as the pioneers of network-centric warfare settle into high-level Pentagon posts. These officials will be expected to help bring network-centric warfare to the mainstream of military doctrine and program development.

In 1999, David Alberts, John J. Garstka and Frederick P. Stein published a book titled, "Network-centric Warfare, Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority." A contributor to the book was then-Navy Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski.

Now, Cebrowski, Garstka and Alberts are all working at the Pentagon in positions that allow them to influence the application of network-centric warfare. Cebrowski, recently retired from the Navy, is the Pentagon’s director of force transformation. Garstka is the chief technology officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Alberts is the director of research and strategic planning for the assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I). The assistant secretary for C3I is the Pentagon’s chief information officer.

Network-centric warfare can be defined as the use of computers, high-speed data links and networking software in combat operations, said Ronald O’Rourke, a national defense specialist at the Congressional Research Service. The application of network-centric warfare means that data gleaned from listening devices, unmanned vehicles, geo-spatial information and human intelligence is collected and distributed in real time to the military services.

"Network-centric warfare is no longer just someone’s idea, but it’s being put into practical use and is accruing benefits," said Alberts in a recent interview. "We’re developing a state of shared awareness, so that everyone understands what it is, and program managers develop capabilities with an eye toward interoperability, even when that specifically may not be mentioned in program requirement documents.

"We know we have to deploy a robust infrastructure for sharing information," Alberts said. "Not only do we need all the information collected by the Defense Department available in the same place, we need information collected by other people, outside the Defense Department."

Current legacy systems are not interoperable without work-arounds and special fixes, which may create security problems, Alberts said. "Most people know that security is also a huge issue in this day and age," he said. "Doing something both interoperable and secure is a real challenge.

"We have people now monitoring networks and looking at systems, and we’re making big strides, but in the final analysis, it takes a lot of people at the Defense Department to get something done," he said. Experimentation will be key to the implementation of network-centric warfare, said Alberts. "Experimentation is a great start, and we need to be doing a hell of a lot more of it," he said.

Alberts mentioned that Garstka often gives speeches, talks and attends conferences outside of the Defense Department, in order to exchange ideas about network-centric warfare. "We used to think that industry and academia were way ahead of us on this concept, but it turns out now that we do a lot of stuff here just as well," he said.

Cebrowski fine-tuned the concept of network-centric warfare while he was president of the Naval War College. As the force transformation "point man," answering directly to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, he is tasked with making sure that the military services are working in line with the Department’s vision. It is expected that his first priority will be to make all the services "network-centric."

"If you’re not interoperable, if you’re not on the ‘net,’ you’re not benefiting from the Information Age, and you’re not on the team," said Cebrowski during a roundtable with reporters. "People do not strive to be non-interoperable, but there are forces that tend to lead people to program decisions, which might result in a lack of interoperability, and those need to be addressed," he said.

"Rumsfeld wants transformation linked to key strategic functions, and network-centric warfare should be the cornerstone of the Defense Department’s plan for transformation," Cebrowski said. The four strategic functions are "assurance of allies, dissuading of competition, deterrence of hostilities, and if need be, the decisive defeat of enemies." Transformation plays a role in all of those functions, Cebrowski said.

The concept of network-centric warfare provides a "solid intellectual foundation from which to build," said Army Lt. Col. Kevin Woods, director of experimentation at the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM). "It has already spawned new supporting joint concepts," he said. "It is important to remember, however, that some of the ideas associated with network-centric warfare still remains well-founded hypothesis and conjecture." To move beyond conjecture, Woods said, joint experimentation is required.

"Network-centric warfare must include all service capabilities," said Woods. "Its strength is in the idea that when diverse war-fighting elements possess a shared understanding of the battle space, and their capabilities are in mutual support, then new synergies will emerge that today remain essentially undiscovered.

"The joint force—as an organized whole—is the beneficiary of network-centric warfare," he said. "The alternative to joint warfare is probably sub-effective warfare: greater risk, more casualties, greater costs and indecisive outcomes."

John Stenbit, assistant secretary of defense for C3I, said that network-centric warfare "allows us to go anywhere we want, in very small groups, talk to each other, and get everything together at exactly the same instant and turn it all around."

"The traditional systems rely on the fact that the bureaucracy that finds the target is the same bureaucracy that shoots it," Stenbit said during a Pentagon news conference. "But, if we achieve a network-centric operation—and to me that means anybody can get any information at any time—anybody in the world who’s got a gun at any moment can be solving the problem of what are his ten best targets, and it’s not somebody waiting for somebody else to tell him.

"That doesn’t mean he’s supposed to shoot. But I do believe that it’s very important that we decentralize the decision-making."

Arthur L. Money, who served as assistant secretary of defense for C3I in the Clinton administration, said that information superiority encompasses the ability to collect, process, protect and distribute relevant and accurate information in a timely manner. It is equally important to deny adversaries access to that information, he told an industry conference.

Woods agreed that the enemy’s information systems play a key role in war planning. At JFCOM, "the concept of an operational net assessment is to understand the enemy as a system-of-systems. As an initial model, these systems are often listed as political, military, economic, social, information and infrastructure.

"The challenge for the commander is to discern those nodes within the enemy’s systems that are both essential to the enemy and vulnerable to attack. Paralyzing effects that deny all options to the enemy comes from a full court, sustained attack against all of the enemy’s systems," Woods said. "Information is important, but it is still only one system."

According to Money, "Network-centric warfare is going to tie together every aspect of our operations, from tactical to theatre to national commanders, from our ‘satellite’ sensors to our ‘shooters’ on the ground, all in what we call ‘a system of systems.’

"Technology intersects at almost every level of defense, and the advances made in high-performance computing and complex data management solutions have never been more relevant in digital warfare than they are today," Money said.

Knowledge Needs
"The Department of Defense and the intelligence community must invest in new technology capabilities and people to meet the information and knowledge needs of the armed forces and national decision makers," said retired Army Lt. Gen. James King, former director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

"What we need is a fused, real-time, true representation of the battle space—an ability to order, respond and coordinate horizontally and vertically to the degree necessary to prosecute the assigned mission," he said during a conference sponsored by Silicon Graphics Inc.

John Burwell, senior director of government industry for SGI Federal, explained that the sensors that are out there—imaging, listening devices—generate immense amounts of data that needs to be stored, processed and turned into meaningful information to support decision making.

As an example of how network-centric warfare works, Burwell cited the Defense Department’s Topscene system. Topscene is a software application that provides a mission rehearsal digital environment for military pilots. The idea is to provide an interactive, three-dimensional training environment that is geo-specific, meaning it reflects the real world. The scenery that pilots see in the rehearsal looks exactly like the real mission, because it’s based on real world imagery.

"The same technology of three-dimensional visualization can also support command and control applications," said Burwell. "That sort of data fusion has never been done before. By putting different pieces of data together from different systems, you get much more powerful results."

The U.S. government, he added, has done "a lot of collection and processing of data, but now we’re doing more visualization of data, and that’s exciting."

Woods noted, "The powerful idea here is to establish those conditions that can evolve the service strengths into a single, highly functional single system."

The question of how to shift the focus away from systems and onto joint mission capabilities packages is critical, Cebrowski said.

JFCOM says that’s where they come in. At the Joint Forces Command, "We are looking to use all that we have in a collective fashion, a goal that is unique in the Defense Department. … We are changing how the U.S. goes to war," said Air Force Lt. Col. Janet Tucker, a spokesperson for JFCOM.

"We are trying to realize the vision of a ‘plug and play’ force, where ad hoc computer networks could be established over a battle space, anywhere, anytime," said Annette Ratzenberger, chief of JFCOM’s experimentation engineering. Within such a computer network, Ratzenberger said, the goal would be for any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine to plug-and-play with other agencies and command authorities.

"Someday we want to have the pilot in the aircraft being able to talk to a nuclear expert on plant design, and be able to do that in real time," she said.

JFCOM is pursuing modeling, simulation and experimentation in this arena. "We try and work this networked-battlefield, through scheduled experiments such as Network Challenger II and Millennium Challenge ‘02, which will occur in July of 2002, with all services involved."

During the experimentation process, Ratzenberger said, "we are looking at three legs of a stool that make up the operational concept: the services’ doctrine, organization, and technology.

"There is some prototype software that we will be experimenting on," to connect the networks, Ratzenberger noted. "Most importantly, however, are the doctrinal and organizational aspects." These experiments, she said, "are beginning to look at what we would call ‘coherent jointness’ in the battle space, as opposed to separate service stovepipes. We’re trying to take stovepipes and make them interoperate together."

Topics: Warfare, Defense Department, Modeling and Simulation, Information Technology

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