Center for Strategic Decision Research


U.S. Objectives for Network Centric Warfare Capability

Dr. Linton Wells
United States Principal Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3I

When we talk about Network Centric Warfare, we are talking about a four-tier cascade. Building the network allows us to share information. Sharing the information allows us to share situation awareness. Shared situational awareness allows forces to do what we call "self-synchronization", which means less tightly coordinated from the top, but in pursuit of common objectives. Self-synchronization dramatically improves force effectiveness. 

The objectives for Network Centric Warfare that the Department of Defense has put forward for the next several years are three-fold: 

  • Make information available on a network that people depend on and trust.  
  • Populate the network with new, dynamic sources of information to defeat the enemy. 
  • Deny the enemy advantages and exploit weaknesses. 


Building the Network. By starting to build the network, we have committed about $650 million over the next two years, 2003 and 2004, to extending 10-gigabit-per-second fiber to the 80 largest command-and-control nodes, not only in the U.S. but also overseas. Some of these nodes will be in Europe, some in the Middle East, and some in Asia. We expect to increase that number over the next few years. Then, we will extend that bandwidth enhancement to increase the capacity that can be handled by satellites by using laser communications. 

The next part of the program will be moving to wireless tails, and I think there will be a very significant opportunity for international cooperation and the development of software-programmable radios. A productive program is already under way with Great Britain's Bowman system, and the U.S. Joint Tactical Radio System. 

The point I want to emphasize about the network is that it has to be global and ubiquitous, but also one that people trust. If people do not trust it, they are not going to share their information, and if they do not share their information, then we will not reap the benefits of network centricity. Trust comes from security, and that must be built in from the start. If we look at all the forward-looking, transformational, exciting, yet stupid ideas that could be followed, becoming dependent on an unsecure network would be pretty high on the "not smart" list. So security is absolutely critical. 

Populating the Network with Data. The network will be populated with a mix of intelligence information, blue force information, personnel medical statistics, and logistics information. 

Making Sense of the Information is a Key Part of Populating the Network. I am struck by the fact that if you read 300 words a minute, you are processing data at about 200 bits a second. The network we will build will carry 10 billion bits of data a second, and the constraint will be with all of us at the far end of the pipe who have to read the data. The ability to translate the information-and make sense of it-is a very critical part of implementing Network Centric Warfare. 

Denying the Opponent Comparable Advantages. The final piece of this concept is denying our opponent comparable advantages. To do this we need a mix of rigorous security, counterintelligence, target penetration, and other key components. 


The Department of Defense is committed to transformation. This transformation will require us to adopt Information Age technologies and adapt to them. In the final analysis, the success of our transformation will be directly related to our ability to bring information to bear in our warfighting and other national security missions as well as in the business processes necessary to acquire capabilities and support operations. 

Network Centric Warfare is the embodiment of an Information Age transformation of the Department of Defense. It imposes a new way of thinking about how we accomplish our missions, how we organize and interrelate, and how we acquire and field the systems that support us. The changes in our approach to the way we employ, acquire, and field systems pose significant challenges for the test and evaluation community. 

Our successful transformation to Network Centric Warfare relies on our ability to create and share a high level of awareness and to control this shared awareness to rapidly self-synchronize effects. This will allow us to bring all the available information and all of our assets to bear, thus greatly enhancing combat power. 

Of course, Network Centric Warfare requires that we think about information differently, particularly the way we disseminate it. The system will be dominated by peer-to-peer relationships and information exchanges that transcend individual systems and organizations. It will empower the "edge" of the organization and command will involve choosing from a set of alternatives presented from the "edge," as opposed to centralized planning. This, in turn, affects the attributes of information systems that are most important to us and therefore has profound implications for what we should build and how we should test it. 

Network Centric Warfare involves a historic shift in the center of gravity from platforms such as planes, ships and vehicles to the network. The single greatest contributor to combat power is the network itself. The value of platforms, headquarters, and other assets derive their value from their ability to contribute to the overall effort by virtue of their being connected to the network. The marginal value of an unconnected platform pales in comparison to the value it can generate if it is "net ready." For example, the information generated by a networked sensor serves to enhance the value of all the other nodes on the net, rather than only a few nodes. 

To achieve this, the information must be "posted" to the network before it is meticulously processed, since users may find value in inputs that centralized inputs managers had not envisioned. At the same time, however, it is not enough just to "pull" from the net. Each user also must post his or her information expeditiously. Consider an example. Today, a satellite photo is processed and exploited by a centralized group of experts before being disseminated. However, a soldier in the field may need to know immediately that there is something on the far side of the hill with tanks, a turret, and a gun, rather than waiting several hours to get a fully analyzed picture that describes the type of tank and its capabilities. By the same token, a picture taken by the soldier's digital camera also should be posted immediately for analysis at headquarters. It needs to be a two-way street. 


In building and using this type of network, there are significant coalition considerations and international partnership opportunities. Although the bandwidth is striking, a lot of it is being built with commercial fiber, which is available to everybody. It basically uses dense wave division multiplexing. The fact that we are using web-based interfaces is something that should be shared among all coalition partners no matter what their technological sophistication may be. 

We are also using commercial collaborative tool sets and software-programmable radios, reusing commercial off-the-shelf products to the maximum extent possible. But there are serious cultural issues involved. Many believe that power comes not from the information you hold but from the information you share, and that challenges the hierarchical command-and-control system that has been built for the dissemination of information in channels. It is something we are just beginning to work through. 

Security is an area for which we need a new theory. We need an approach that allows us to share information while maintaining trust within the communities of interest. In this regard, I would like to point out that 24 out of our last 26 espionage cases in the United States had received security clearances before they went bad, so the threat from the "cleared insider" must be considered seriously. 

Business knows this "insider" problem very well; in the defense security equation, we are used to thinking of having the bad guy on the outside and the good guy on the inside. We need to rethink the problem and make more use of near-real-time monitoring of the network, which the commercial sector already does very well. We look forward to learning how the private sector protects intellectual property to use as a model for our own military security. 


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