Center for Strategic Decision Research


Network-Centric Operations/Network-Enabled Capabilities

Dr. Linton Wells II
United States Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Networks and Information Integration

The goal in this area, as General Naumann has said, is to translate information superiority into effective engagement. Therefore I am going to provide an overview of network-centric operations and its NATO equivalent, “network-enabled capabilities,” from a government perspective. Tom Vice, who is Vice President for Business Development at Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems, will provide perspective from the private sector as well as talk about some specific programs. 


The information revolution is transforming our societies and our way of life. Many militaries are leveraging this fact, as are other groups. We have already heard discussions about the importance of network-enabled capabilities, and saw it reinforced recently in this important paragraph in the NATO Ministerial communiqué: 

“We welcomed further progress and encouraged further work in developing capabilities important for Alliance operations, including ongoing work on NATO concepts for network-enabled capabilities as a significant potential enabler for command, control, consultation, and information superiority.”  

This statement reflects a lot of hard work since before Istanbul. These are critical enablers, but the effective implementation of these capabilities ultimately will depend more on political will than technology. This is why it is key to have our ministers acknowledge their importance. 

The basic principles of network-centric operations are: 

  • Moving from smart push to smart pull (people can pull the information they need from the network, rather than waiting for “owners” of information to “push” it to them) 
  • Power to the edge (people at the edge of the network are empowered by the information they receive and rewarded for the information they contribute. The “edge” of the network is wherever the action is happening.) 
  • Building the global information grid (GIG), which is the Defense Department’s means for sharing, storing, and processing information worldwide. The GIG supports warfighting, business and intelligence missions.  It is more than just a network, since it includes not just hardware but also the people and processes to promote network-centric operations across the Department.  
    - Currently there are six major network-centric programs underway (there actually are many more, but these are the core): Four deal with the transport of information—GIG Bandwidth Expansion, Joint Tactical Radio Sys        tem (JTRS), Transformational Satellite (TSAT), and Teleports; one covers services—Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES); and one deals with network security—GIG Information Assurance. 
    - There are also three related concepts: Network Operations/Network Resources Management, Spectrum Management, and the Net-Centric Data Strategy. 
    - We also are doing Enterprise-wide Systems Engineering for the GIG. 

The Net-Centric Data Strategy allows partners at any level to participate in network-centric operations. It addresses Minister Liska’s request for “plug and play” capability and works to ensure that data is discoverable, accessible, and understandable. The data strategy is designed to accommodate “unanticipated users” and the goal is to allow for “user-defined operational pictures” instead of “common operational pictures.”  In other words, people can tailor the information they receive to their needs, not what someone else thinks they need. 

U.S. and NATO data strategies are virtually identical. This is reinforced, for example, through the Combined Endeavor interoperability exercise, which has been held for 10 years and in which 43 countries participated in 2005; this exercise is being extended to include African participants. 

We are working to deploy a pilot program early in 2006 that will provide shared operational pictures between the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. The program is based on a NATO standard, NATO Standardized Agreements (STANAGs) and on the C2 Information Exchange Data Model (C2IEDM). We hope to address some of the issues General Back has raised. Although this project should have been easy, funding has been hard and some nations actually have questioned the need to share operational pictures. Allied Command Transformation (ACT), on the other hand, has been a terrific proponent.  

The data strategy is now being implemented through Communities of Interest (COI) and Service Oriented Architectures. A COI is a bottom-up approach to building common data definitions, data usage practices, etc. based on specific functions, such as the COI for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), or for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR). The data strategy can be used for warfighting, business and intelligence activities and supports a portfolio management approach to information. We are exploring applications of the data strategy with the Afghan government. Service Oriented Architectures are the approach to which industry is moving to allow for maximum flexibility in the delivery of information services. 


In order to fully benefit from network centricity, our cultures must change. While the technology that enables network-enabled capabilities may be mostly evolutionary, pacing commercial developments, we MUST co-evolve to achieve step-function improvements in performance and transformational breakthroughs. That means making changes in doctrine, organization, training, leadership, material, personnel, and facilities.  

John Chambers of Cisco agrees, stressing the importance of changing business practices before automating. The military also must make these changes and thus ACT’s role in concept development and experimentation is key. In addition, the government may be able to partner with industry through facilities such as the “battle labs” that several firms have set up. 

The key to effective engagement is being able to fuse operational, intelligence, and business information, not just provide intelligence or C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers and ISR). Information is the paradigm, including open source materials. In Iraq we are making particular efforts to fuse information from different Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) families via the network. I hope that the NATO Response Force (NRF) Full Operational Capability exercise in 2006 will include network-enabled capabilities. 

Information assurance (IA) is also crucial. We must be able to protect the network that is becoming our center of gravity. Effective security also is a prerequisite to building the trust that will allow effective information sharing. Security cannot be applied after the fact, it must be designed in from the beginning. A broad strategy is needed, one that includes in-depth defense focused on people, processes, and technology. There must also be near-real-time situational awareness of conditions in the network based on strong identification and authentication. In addition we must be able to address the “cleared insider” threat and provide hardware assurance. The Defense Trusted Integrated Circuits Strategy is being used for hardware assurance and there is a Tiger Team for software assurance. We must move on beyond just IA to provide “mission assurance,” enabling the completion of a mission irrespective of the level of the attack. As we outsource more of our networks in the future, this brings new security concerns as well. 


Network-enabled capabilities are applicable to civil as well as military situations, as Denis Ranque has noted. Kent Schneider described the importance of having a seamless interface between defense and homeland security in the war on terrorism and the U.S. has been working domestically on terrorist-information sharing across the government through Executive Order 13356 and subsequent actions. 

The Department of Defense also must be able to communicate, collaborate, translate, and sustain engagements outside the military domain as part of providing stabilization and reconstruction (S&R) operations, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. As Hans Binnendijk noted, we should move beyond ad hoc approaches in these areas. 
To do that, we need to take five steps: 

  • Develop capabilities such as collaboration tools for intermittently disconnected users 
  • Build a cadre of people with cross-cultural skills 
  • Incorporate all of these steps into doctrine, beyond “joint” and “combined” doctrine. To move ahead in this area we must plan systematically to engage with non-traditional partners such as USAID, international organizations, NGOs, indigenous security services, and even commercial partners. Bruce George has noted the importance of leveraging these kinds of outside capabilities. 
  • Provide modest funds for sustaining and rapidly deploying the capabilities and 
  • Adjust the laws to allow U.S.-supplied information and communications equipment to be left behind. 

This ability to reach out can benefit NATO as it expands its role in Afghanistan. As General Back noted, economic development is very important there, and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) can help in this if they can engage properly. We have established a new directorate within my organization, Contingency Support and Migration Planning (CSMP), to address these kinds of issues. 


In order for network-centricity to meet all of our goals, we must use our resources effectively and make our systems agile. 

This is particularly necessary because of the length of the defense acquisition cycle, system lifetimes, and the fluctuating security environment we face. The U.S. Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) and the Defense Program Projection are extending over 16 years—longer than the time from the Wright Brothers’ first flight to the end of World War I. In addition, many of our current systems are not being used in the ways for which they were designed. For example, network-enabled B-52s with Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAMs) provided close air support to special forces on horseback in Afghanistan who were equipped with data link radios and GPS receivers. 

Future network-centric systems should be seen as nodes in a network, not as stand-alone platforms. Already, the Net-Ready Key Performance Parameter (KPP) is mandatory for all new U.S. military capabilities; recently a key fighter aircraft was not allowed to go forward to its next production milestone until the Link-16 data link was added. 

Information from various collectors should be posted to the net in appropriate formats and with tags that are in accordance with the net-centric data strategy. Posting this information will greatly facilitate complementarity between U.S. and European systems as well as allow more effective use of NATO and national systems. Right now the U.S. is working to improve information interoperability for various families of UAVs. 

Net-centric approaches like the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) can allow equipment made in different countries to be more effective and interoperable. 

As General Naumann and others have noted, we should make maximum use of commercial technologies, including off-the-shelf products when possible, and increase partnerships with the private sector. Several speakers at this workshop have spoken of the value of cell phones and commercial hand-held radios in operational situations. Nonetheless, the security concerns of unsecured communication devices cannot be ignored but commercial crypto may provide enough protection in many cases. 

Governments will need to be able to take advantage of commercial product cycles. To do this, open standards are critical, as General Schuwirth pointed out. Hand-held PDAs linked to UAVs by commercial standards such as 802.11 (WiFi) and 802.16 (WiMax) already are being used by forces in the field. At least one system, pioneered by the Naval Postgraduate School, uses completely commercial systems that can be released to any partner. 

Companies including Intel are bundling world-band cell phone capabilities, WiMax links, PDA functions, storage for photos, and encryption on single chips. We should be able to leverage these trends through commercial partnerships to deliver capabilities in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of traditional developmental approaches. However, as Admiral Stanhope has noted, industry is not a united body. Entities such as the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC) and NIAG are valuable, but there still are gaps. Vice Admiral Ray has asked about the value of a transatlantic industry association. 

In addition to providing technical capabilities, information and communication technologies (ICT) can have political-military impacts as well. For example, network-enabled capabilities may be used to enhance interoperability in order to promote the Mediterranean Dialogue. Having the ability to engage with indigenous security services and a broad range of partners in the critical hours and days immediately after the end of a crisis or disaster can profoundly affect the long-term outcome of the situation. Concepts about how to use ICT to help with conflict avoidance are beginning to emerge, and the World Summit of the Information Society that will be held in Tunis later in 2005 may offer further opportunities for progress. 


I would like to leave you with the thought that network-centric operations and network-enabled capabilities have introduced issues that need to be addressed by ministers and commanders, not just staffs or technical advisors. These approaches can enhance our operational effectiveness, allow smaller partners to participate in coalitions more effectively, promote the smarter use of resources, and leverage the expertise of industry and the young people who are our future resources. Conversely, without understanding these approaches’ potential, opportunities can be missed, and without adequate security, serious vulnerabilities can be introduced at all levels. The attention of our top-level, most experienced people is needed. 





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