While it is impossible to determine the operational characteristics of complex, distributed, networked forces that do not yet exist, one can examine other disciplines for force design principles, potential experimental hypotheses, and new ideas about the command, control, and operation of distributed collectives. One of the most fruitful disciplines for such an exercise is the study of wolf pack behavior. Animal behavior has long inspired other traditional types of military operations, and pack behavior itself was a metaphor for U-boat tactics in World War II.
At a basic level, wolf packs are similar to military forces in that wolves must both hunt and attack their quarry just as military forces must search and destroy opposing combatants. From a distributed, networked forces perspective, these two functions reflect the dual prerequisite for adaptive behavior: exploration and exploitation. The wolf survives because the pack succeeds, and pack success is collective. Just as distributed, networked forces can be defeated in detail without collective support from the rest of the force, ostracized wolves quickly die alone once banished by their packs.
Packs, tike military forces, have leadership, organization, and communication. Once established as the strongest wolves of the pack, the "alpha" male and female assume leadership of the pack and establish the pecking order-the organization-for the rest of the group. Each wolf communicates its rank in this hierarchy with a system of yelps, facial expressions, and tail attitudes. Wolf pack behavior suggests some important principles for the development, operation, and leadership of distributed networked forces.
Another aspect of wolf pack behavior, the assignment of pack resources to different prey, can similarly inform the development of distributed, networked forces. Wolves may be indiscriminant killers, but they dynamically configure their efforts to create different sized collectives to attack different sized prey. When attacking a squirrel or rabbit, for example, wolves will kill independently yet still travel together as a pack. As the pack encounters larger prey, the proportion of the pack participating in the kill is larger. An adult moose, for example, might require the complex collective efforts of the entire pack. A common assumption in many concepts for distributed, networked forces is that standardsized platform collectives are always assigned to the same collective problem. Again the collective behavior of the wolf pack raises an important question for developers of distributed, networked forces: should operating concepts explicitly contain the same multiscale tasking approach as the wolf pack?
An investigation of pack tactics for the attack itself also provides inspiration for the design and operation of distributed, networked forces. In a moose attack, the moose often will stand its ground and try to stare down the alpha wolf. If the alpha decides not to back down but to attack, as soon as the alpha lunges at the moose, each wolf executes its own unique and simple maneuver. One or two wolves will dig their fangs into the moose's hindquarters while another will dig into the fleshy nose, holding on to distract and tire the moose. Another wolf will try to sever the moose's jugular while others attack forequarters. The wolves will relentlessly attack from all directions while individually avoiding the moose's sharp hooves and heavy antlers. If one wolf falters or is shaken off, another will assume the abandoned task until the moose succumbs.
There are, of course, many more wolf pack behaviors that can be of help in developing distributed, networked forces. For this reason, the Department of Defense's Office of Force Transformation has embraced the model of the wolf pack in its effort to inspire research into systems designs for distributed, networked forces.
Mr. Cares is President and CEO of Alidade Incorporated and commanding officer of Naval Reserve Office of Naval Research/Naval Research Laboratory Science and Technology Detachment 106.