Center for Strategic Decision Research


Network-Enabled Capabilities—Issues and Implications

Dr. Linton Wells II
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration

Assistant Secretary Linton Wells II
"Lessons learned from Iraq... suggest that we should consider new approaches in pre-war or pre-deployment planning if we are to take best advantage of the network-enabled capabilities that might be available."

I would like to address three broad areas related to what NATO calls network-enabled capabilities and the U.S. refers to as network-centric warfare: first, transnational issues related to network-enabled capabilities, especially as they pertain to the transatlantic alliance; second, how to acquire network-enabled capabilities in a resource-constrained environment; and third, the strategic implications of network-enabled capabilities. 


During the workshop we have heard many discussions about the future, focusing on:

  • Global, non-traditional threats
  • The need for NATO and the EU to engage in unfamiliar regions, such as the Greater Middle East 
  • The problems of coalitions with changing partners 
  • The demographic and environmental dimensions of security 

However, we need to be careful about forecasts. The U.S. Defense Department has something called the Defense Program Projection (DPP), which looks 10 years beyond the end of our “Future Years Defense Program” (FYDP). This year, we will look out to 2021, mainly to make sure that there are no unaffordable convergences of major acquisition programs during those years. However, in the process of reviewing the DPP, someone noted that the 17 years between 2004 and 2021 are longer than those between the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903 and the end of World War I. In mid-1903 it would have been hard to forecast the needs of military aviation, which few imagined was possible, in a major war that few imagined was coming. 

To test our forecasting ability in a more current scenario, let us look back 17 years from this 2004 workshop period, to 1987: 

  • Our land forces were preparing for armored warfare in the Fulda Gap.
  • Many of our aircraft were being designed for combat above the inter-German border. 
  • The navy had an objective of 600 ships, in part to defend the North Atlantic sea lanes. 
  • The mujahedin were regarded as valued freedom fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan. 
  • There was a strong buffer against the Islamic Revolution in Iran—his name was Saddam Hussein. 
  • Almost no one had heard of the Internet. 

It may be that we will improve our forecasting skills in the future, but, at a minimum, this look back suggests that the systems we acquire now should provide us with flexibility. 

Network-enabled capabilities were described as important in the presentations made by General Kujat, Minister Struck, General Jones, Under Secretary Wynne, and others, even in situations short of general war. Mr. Cunningham also presented an excellent synopsis of essential network characteristics, Mr. Lentz reminded us that security must be designed into the network from the beginning, and General Joulwan admonished that we must continue to provide connectivity and situational awareness to existing forces even as we transform. 

In his speech, General Jones spoke of four pillars of transformation: 

  • Figuring out how to incorporate and use new technology 
  • Developing new operational concepts 
  • Reforming institutions 
  • Changing the way we spend money 

Network-enabled capabilities touch each of these pillars. In addition, information and communications technologies (and changes in doctrine) can help smaller nations make useful contributions to the Alliance or to coalitions, so we should design our systems for “plug and play.” 

Of the six changes General Jones called for in his presentation, network-enabled capabilities affect at least four: 

  • Making our capabilities more usable
  • Improving “tooth-to-tail” ratios, especially by reducing logistics footprints 
  • Improving the sharing of all kinds of information, not only intelligence 
  • Overcoming challenges to transformation 

In these areas, there is much to be optimistic about. Earlier we spoke about the transnational opportunities available in the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), and the fact that much of the U.S. movement toward network-enabled capabilities was being based on web-based tools and commercial standards. The potential to incorporate NATO data standards from the Multi-National Interoperability Programme (MIP) into U.S. approaches also is very exciting. Moreover, commercial trends are in our favor in that the cost of computing, storing, and communicating is falling dramatically, and should continue to do so. 

However, with that said, there also are challenges to bringing network-enabled capabilities to bear quickly, and deploying them where they are most needed: 

Lessons learned from Iraq, which could be applied to many stabilization operations, suggest that we should consider new approaches in pre-war or pre-deployment planning if we are to take best advantage of the network-enabled capabilities that might be available. For example: 

– The civil side in a civil-military operation has requirements that are just as valid as those of the military, but because they are not linked with supporting documentation with strange acronyms such as ICDs, CCDs, and TEMPs we often do not pay as much attention to their needs as we should.

– Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, humanitarian assistance units and disaster assistance response teams had developed tools for collaborating across national and organizational boundaries in austere information environments that might have been very useful early in the post-conflict period. However, for a variety of reasons, they were not adopted, and atrophied accordingly. 

General Joulwan pointed to the importance of continuing to meet the needs of the existing force, even as we transform. Some studies have shown that transformational effects can be realized when as little as 8% to 10% of a force has adopted new technologies and operational concepts. This may be so, but timing the introduction of transformational capabilities and coordinating them with units that have not yet received the capabilities is critical. 

Culture must be changed along with technology and operational concepts. For example, faced with exactly the same information, different practitioners may come to quite different conclusions. During a Partnership for Peace exercise a few years ago, U.S. military personnel and their European counterparts were shown the same common operational picture, based on network-centric principles. Some U.S. personnel looked at the richness of the display as an opportunity for low-level units to self-synchronize without waiting for orders from higher echelons. Some European leaders praised the clarity of the identical display because it allowed senior officers to make more centralized decisions. And some on both sides were concerned that the amount of information available to senior levels would cause them to micromanage the engagement. 

We need to be clear in our terminology. As noted earlier, several similar phrases are being used in different quarters: network-enabled capabilities, network-centric warfare, network-centric operations, knowledge-enabled warfare. I think that the first three are fully equivalent in substance, but we need to make sure that everyone understands what we are talking about. Moreover, fundamental concepts such as “control” (as in “command and control”) probably need to be rethought in the network-centric environment. 

As Bob Lentz mentioned earlier, information assurance concerns are absolutely critical, and need to be incorporated into the design of networks and network-centric concepts from the beginning. 

Finally, we need to make hard decisions when sharing information in multinational environments and in interagency situations in which law enforcement and private sector data may be involved. We need to move beyond present coalition networks like CENTRIXS and Griffin to truly multinational information systems, but this will take hard work both in designing the systems and in constructing the information sharing policies to support them. 


In order to obtain network-enabled capabilities, we need to take four important steps: 

  • Leverage commercial trends
  • Change our business practices and TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures), not just technology
  • Work together to rationalize resource allocations
  • Recognize the dangers and impediments, and address them head on

Leveraging Commercial Trends

One of the pioneers of the Internet revolution recently offered several insights into trends in commercial information and communication technology. Some highlights included: 

Cell phones. In the early 1980s, AT&T completed a market forecast of the demand for cell phones. It concluded that the global market would reach 900,000 phones by the year 2000. In 2003, 500,000,000 cell phones were sold, a number that should reach a billion per year in just a few years’ time.

– The next generation of phones being readied for distribution in late 2004 in Japan will have two distinct processors, one for the phone and one for computing applications. Although the input/output devices for the phones still need work, cell phones and portable computers are converging.

– The quality of digital photography built into phones will increase rapidly, threatening stand-alone digital cameras.

– Linux is becoming the operating system of choice for the new cell phones, due to cost and stability. In a short while, most phones will ship network ready. 

Play stations. Processors optimized for computer games cost only a few hundred dollars, but they are powerful because they are subsidized by computer gaming revenues, which now have surpassed motion picture revenues in the U.S. 

– The University of Illinois recently put together the cards from 600 play stations (total cost: under $200k) and built a parallel supercomputer that ranked in the top 100 in the world. This power will continue to grow. The Play Station 3 is expected to ship in 2005 as part of a full-fledged attack on Microsoft-based PCs. A Play Station X, with 320 gigabytes of memory, enough to record 320 hours of television video, is under development. The result is a three-way competition/convergence among: 

– Windows, Linux, and Java operating systems
– Mobile computing with integral phone and network links 
– High-performance gaming computers. 

In the Internet pioneer’s view, it’s not clear which combinations will win, but the net result will be a proliferation of increasingly powerful, networked systems at lower prices. 

Embedded systems. The average car today has about 100 central processing units (CPUs), which increasingly are linked via wireless, packet-switched local area networks (LANs). In about five years there will be 400–500 CPUs/car, and each vehicle will be effectively a mobile, massively parallel computing system. 

– Linux also is becoming the dominant operating system for embedded computers. 

– Radio-frequency (RF) sensors are becoming ubiquitous. Those being manufactured by Dust, Inc. (a spinoff of a DARPA project) are indicative of new generations that can wake up, report in, and go back to sleep to save power or draw energy from the interrogating RF signals. 

– Before long, sensors will be available that have 3- to10-year battery lives and that can be scattered anywhere. 

This environment of “creative destruction,” in which product cycles are measured in months to weeks (in comparison to government budgeting cycles measured in years) suggests that we should build as much flexibility as possible into our infrastructures and adopt open standards wherever we can. This is the approach the U.S. is trying to take, using browser-based displays wherever possible and making strong commitments to international standards such as Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) and the commercial software communications architecture found in JTRS. 

Changing Business Practices and TTPs, Not Just Technology

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, recently addressed the relationship between investments in information and communications technology (ICT) and increases in productivity. He found that companies that had preceded their ICT investments with business process reengineering had realized significant gains in productivity measured over several years. However, companies that had used only ICT to automate existing processes actually experienced reduced productivity. As was mentioned earlier, we need to co-evolve doctrine, organization, training, material, leadership, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) to achieve the full benefits of transformation. 

One senior NATO leader, as well as others, expressed concern that the increased visibility into lower-echelon activities that network-enabled capabilities provides will encourage senior officers to meddle and micromanage, potentially destroying junior officers’ and noncommissioned officers’ initiative. There is no doubt that this is a possibility, and there have been examples in the past in which fleet commanders called battle group commanders thousands of miles at sea to suggest they adjust their tactical dispositions. However, the potential for micromanaging can also be addressed by doctrine, training, and discipline. The Navy has already done this with its Composite Warfare Commander concept, wherein authority for different parts of an engagement is delegated to subordinate commanders; the approach has evolved into an effective one. Nonetheless, there are interactions between leadership and technology that need to be understood and addressed in our training environments. 

The concerns of Generation Y, roughly those under 30, also need to be addressed. They come into the service, or start working for their employers, with an expectation of connectivity. Look at the way many teenagers today operate, with multiple windows open on their computers and multiple chat sessions underway simultaneously. They have continuous situational awareness of which friends are online and available, exquisitely tailored cell phone configurations, and continuous access to the information resources on the Web. We can learn a lot from them about network-enabled environments. But we also need to be careful, since this connectivity is not a “nice-to-have” thing for many of today’s young people, but an inherent part of their culture. As we bring them into government employment, where this level of connectivity may either not be available or not allowed because of classified information, we can expect frustration and push-back. 

Working Together to Rationalize Resource Allocations

General Jones described the exceptional transformations that have taken place within NATO, especially since the Prague Summit. From the standpoint of achieving network-enabled capabilities, these include: 

  • Establishment of the Allied Command Operations (ACO), which sets requirements
  • Establishment of the Allied Command Transformation (ACT), which is the forcing agent for change through the development of Concepts of Operations (CONOPS), experimentation, and modeling and simulation 

Both of these achievements are complemented by the work of the Hague Technical Center under the NATO C3 Agency, which is doing network-centric research, and by NATO’s three current operations (Afghanistan, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean), which offer opportunities to introduce new operational concepts. 

But in addition to these achievements, we should leverage the work of other partners, notably Sweden, which has been at the forefront of transformation, and Singapore, which has fenced 1% of its defense budget for transformation, established a center for military experimentation, and appointed a future systems architect. U.S. Strategic Planning Guidance has also called for accelerating the transformation to a network-centric force. 

All told, these parallel initiatives offer exceptional opportunities for rationalizing investments in network-enabled capabilities. By taking advantage of commercial standards and data-centric strategies, as well as specific initiatives such as JTRS and the MIP, we should be able to achieve such capabilities and improve interoperability even within constrained resources. Mr. Cunningham’s six principles for networks (build to a common architecture, establish a framework that is responsive to operational needs, maintain trust in activities on the network, set up the network as an enabler that allows capabilities to be used better, promote interoperability, and keep interoperability affordable), coupled with the prerequisite of addressing security issues during the design phase, also promote common objectives. 

The future, however, is likely to see increased pressures on security spending, not only in Europe but also in the United States, after several years of exceptional growth. Clear choices will be offered between continuing traditional investments in platforms and moving to place more emphasis on the network and its capabilities. We need to make sure that the implications of the choices are understood fully. 

Recognizing the Dangers and Addressing Them Head On

What back-ups are needed as we move toward network-centric solutions? Recently, for example, a military base had several of its computer networks go down, but the phones still worked. If, in the future, the telephone systems on the base were converted to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), a commercial trend in which phone calls ride over the computer network, then the back-up telephone service might not be available if a similar incident occurred again. As we take advantage of network-centric trends, we need to be aware of what fallback solutions, if any, will be needed. As someone put it, how long do we keep fitting sails on the steamships? 

In order to manage the radio-frequency spectrum, we need to be aware of several things: 

New intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems (ISRs) such as unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) can collect enormous amounts of information. They transmit it via very-wide-bandwidth datalinks, some of which exceed 250 megabits/second. In addition, mobile digitized forces will need to be connected robustly to exchange information on the battlefield, and advanced techniques such as “frequency hopping” may mean that information is sent over several different frequencies in a short period of time. All of this will require access to large amounts of the radio-frequency spectrum, and use of the spectrum will be much more dynamic than it has been in the past.  

Today, the spectrum is managed through a series of fixed allocations of bandwidth that often vary between countries or regions. In other words, a frequency band in the U.S. may have one purpose while in Europe it could have another. In international meetings, such as the World Radio-Communications Conference (WRC), the U.S. and Europe sometimes find themselves at odds.  

The movement of NATO (and potentially the EU) to a more expeditionary posture suggests that there will have to be close cooperation with Alliance partners and coalition members on spectrum use. It also turns out that there are new technologies and new policy approaches that can facilitate more efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum. We should explore opportunities to cooperate in both policy and technology issues in as many of these areas as possible. 

Taking advantage of commercial trends means that we will make more use of commercial off-the-shelf technologies (COTS). Over the next several years, such technologies are likely to become more secure through a variety of market pressures and other incentives. However, market forces are not likely to make software strong enough to withstand dedicated attacks by well-funded, persistent, state-sponsored adversaries. Accordingly, there will almost certainly be a need for government-only solutions (GOTS) to support those special functions that won’t be generated by the marketplace. 

New technologies, such as wireless, bring great increases in performance and convenience. But they also introduce vulnerabilities that are real and potentially serious. The risks must be balanced systematically against the gains in determining policy choices. For example, the DoD recently issued a policy statement on the use of commercial wireless. This is a significant step forward, but also contains important restrictions, such as the requirement for using strong identification and authentication, issuing mandates concerning the use of approved encryption, and prohibiting their use in classified environment. These restrictions reflect both the opportunities the technology brings as well as the very real vulnerabilities associated with it. 

We must address these kinds of questions head on and early, and not sweep them under the rug hoping they will go away. Because they will not. 


Issues such as the ones described above too often are considered the province of technical specialists. But they frequently involve strategic issues that deserve serious attention at ministerial levels, for several reasons:  

  • Information and communications technologies are enormously powerful. They are changing the very fabric of our societies, the way we do business, and the way our young people (our future force structure) think and interact. Security-force leaders need to understand them in a broad political and economic context. 
  • These capabilities can improve the effectiveness of stabilization operations, especially if introduced early. 
  • Key resource choices need to be made between platform-centric and network-centric approaches. 
  • Networks are most effective when they are as broad as possible; they may therefore cross traditional boundaries between agencies and even between nations. 
  • Many different sources of information need to be fused together, but some of this can’t be done without changes in policies or even laws. 
  • The U.S. alone doesn’t have all the answers to these issues. We need support from our Alliance partners in working through solutions. 


To sum up: 

First, information and communications technologies are tremendously powerful, as noted above. Their implications need to be considered in a broad political, economic, and even diplomatic context, not just on a technical basis. 

Second, the introduction of modern information and communications technologies, even short of full-fledged network-enabled capabilities, can have a direct, positive impact on the outcome of stabilization operations. Lessons learned from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas suggest strongly that connectivity and collaboration tools should be brought to bear on stabilization operations within days or weeks following the end of combat.

  • This would allow us to establish communications quickly with key parties, collaborate more closely with partners, and provide coalition forces with the same information superiority that they demand during combat. Moreover, having these capabilities is essential to the effectiveness of indigenous security services (because it will improve their command and control), to enabling the information flows that are the life-blood of democratic societies, and for helping to attract foreign investment as a country rebuilds.
  • Therefore, while our planning in the past has largely focused on combat operations (Phases II and III), pre-war planning (the so-called Phase I) must expressly address the introduction of these capabilities early in the stabilization period (Phase IV). This will happen only through senior leadership’s involvement. 

Third, the new capabilities will not become available unless senior leaders decide to fund them. In a resource-constrained environment, the natural inclination will be to pursue traditional platform-centric or manpower-centric approaches instead of network-centric ones. However, without the networks, troops and stand-alone platforms will be much less effective, interoperability will be impeded, and transformation delayed. But the needed resource allocations won’t be made without ministerial-level attention. 

Fourth, the broader networks generally are more effective than the smaller ones; in addition to serving joint forces, the larger networks also should include coalition partners. In fact, some countries are choosing to extend their networks beyond traditional security establishments to include law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and providers of open source information. In certain cases, such as to protect critical national infrastructures such as power and water, public-private sector partnerships will be needed. But, again, such cross-agency outreach decisions require the personal involvement of government’s most senior officials.

Fifth, what is being shared is a wide range of information, not just intelligence or military data. Rules for collecting, processing, storing, and disseminating such information may involve cultural, policy, and perhaps even legal issues. The establishment of rules to encourage “need to share” information and eliminate “hoarding” demands changes in thinking that can come only from the highest levels. The need to design security into new networks from the outset also will not come without senior-level insistence. 

All of these issues are tied into the political fabric of the Alliance, and indeed to its future effectiveness. We in the U.S. don’t have all the answers, and we need your help, feedback, and opinions as well as your support in implementing these critical transformations. 

The reality is that information and communications technologies are having major impacts on societies across the globe, and will inevitably affect policy and strategy as well as technical areas. Network-enabled capabilities reflect the application of these transformational changes in the national security sphere, and they need to be given serious consideration within the nations of the transatlantic alliance. I ask that ministers and other senior personnel expand their thinking beyond traditional approaches to include these factors that are rapidly reshaping our world. Together we can look forward to an exciting future of dramatically increased, usable, network-enabled capabilities that benefit us all.


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