Network-centric operations are about more than using networks to communicate faster. The current systems, however, focus on the big picture, neglecting the tactical, front-line user.
As Commander, Pacific Fleet, Admiral Walter Doran stated his vision for the future of joint technology:
I look forward to the day when an Air Force airman can sit down at a workstation in USS Blue Ridge [LCC-19] and go right to work without having to get used to a new display or learn new system or applications .... I expect our sailors to be able to do the same at an Air Force Operations Center. This is only possible if we dedicate ourselves to making every system "Joint First."1
Admiral Doran's vision seems to be coming true, if you define it as the ability of every servicemember to use chat, PowerPoint, and the Global Command and Control System-Maritime (GCCS-M). The Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Navy all love networkcentric warfare (NCW). This approach to command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) supposedly means that warfighting units connected by information networks can fight "smarter," enabling dispersed, mobile units to strike critical targets, disabling the enemy, and reducing the need for massive pitched battles. We are not developing the proper networks, however, to do it right.
As network-centric operations and new computer systems flow into the military, the information they provide must be moved to the operators who will use it. For example, network-centric warfare (NCW) seeks to improve communications between the "sensor" and the "shooter." Vital differences exist between Navy and other service operations, but current NCW seeks a universal solution. In particular, we fail to understand the difference in the services between the information data path to the shooters and the systems they use to shoot.
In maneuver warfare, the objective is to disable critical targets. In other services, the sensor, command, and shooter are unique elements. From their perspective, the shooter is the battery, squadron, or company that attacks the target. That shooter receives data from the communication network and transfers it to shooting systems tailored for real-time continuous targeting and weapon control.
In the Navy, we mistakenly think that the shooter is the weapon system, which is not true. In particular, multiple surface unit combat systems are themselves linked by another tactical network that forms an integrated weapon control capability. Current NCW "visionaries" are incorrectly attempting to force the use of strategic communications systems for managing tactical weapons.
Focusing on the Tactical
Admiral Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr. has been preaching revisions to the old C4ISR concept, declaring that it is too broad. He divides the concept into two parts. Command and control (C2) is the "human or organizational element of commanding and directing forces." Communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C2ISR) is "how knowledge is technically gathered, analyzed, displayed, and digitally disseminated through voice, data and imagery." He explains that "understanding this distinction, which may seem small, is critical to understanding how we are transforming the joint and multinational environment."2
The primary distinction is understanding that the tools and processes that lead to planning and decision making are separate from the tools that gather information. A second critical distinction must be made between command at the force level and command at the tactical level. Both levels require similar tools, but they operate on different time and range scales. This second distinction is frequently missed, seriously affecting the tactical effectiveness of our systems.
One reason for the misunderstanding of this distinction is that the terms used to describe the problem are all the same. The basic tenet of the C2 process is the observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) loop. A fundamental NCW precept is that our forces will execute the loop faster than the enemy. Admiral Giambastiani states that, "speed kills-not just physical speed, but speed of awareness, command, and execution. . . It reduces decision and execution cycles, creates opportunities, denies an enemy options, and speeds his collapse."3
The loop concept is supported by the detect-to-kill (DTK) chain. This chain consists of detecting forces, analyzing the data to include mensuration, target selection and weapon allocation, and weapon delivery. Networkcentric warfare seeks to speed the collection and dissemination of this data and these decisions.
The applications of the capabilities in the kill chain need focus because the strategic level has been supported while the tactical level has been forced to adapt. The development of systems needed to support the chain was defined by a former Combined Air Operations Center. Each phase has its own operation center that collects, analyzes, and produces their product for the next center to use. The air campaign carries out this air tasking order (ATO) process. And it doesn't work at the tactical level.
Tactically, operations proceed from a completely different perspective. Tactical units own the ground they walk on and the water they pass through. Their task is to move in, find and disable the bad guy, and then stop him from coming back. Many people do not realize that a fighter pilot name John Boyd defined the OODA loop. By studying in advance how things appeared and how to respond, the correct action could take place more rapidly. Tactical units must support the entire loop/DTK process and they have to do it with what they can carry.
One way to understand the difference is to compare track and basketball. Both teams scout the opposition, choose a lineup, and send players to the competition. From the track team perspective, each player is then on his own. On the basketball court, however, the players continually coordinate among themselves, switching from offense to defense, setting picks or shooting. The strike community and the submarine/maritime patrol aircraft community operate like the track team; today's sequential model of the loop suits them well.
Marine and Army ground forces, surface antisubmarine warfare (ASW), antiair warfare (AAW), and surface warfare (SUW) forces operate differently. Consider what would happen on the basketball court if the team had to call the coach before setting every pick for orders on who would set it. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Air Force was pleased with the way the ATO worked, receiving targets at the operations center and tasking them for attack. The Army, however, felt that it was not responsive enough because targets were appearing and disappearing faster than the order could react.4 The Navy and Marine Corps air management teams thought the ATO was much improved while the ground combat forces felt constrained.5 When the Marine Corps commanders returned to treating the air component more like a close-support unit, the problems were worked out.6
A similar situation played out in the 2004 Rim of the Pacific (RimPac) ASW exercises in the Pacific. One objective was to exercise the role of the theater ASW commander (TASWC). Numerous contact reports were sent back to the commander, but surface units conducting the search did not receive them because they were using a different chat room. A guided-missile destroyer (DDG) was tasked to receive submarine positions and detections from a prototype submerged communications system and transfer them to other networks. The DDG commanding officer felt that he was not allowed to enter that information into the global command system or the Link 16 interceptor-aircontrol data link. Instead he entered the information into several chat rooms, all processed by the TASWC. The information never came back. In chat, the positions of three submarines were between one and nine hours old. On the DDG's global command system, the first submarine was missing and the other two were more than 20 hours old. Furthermore, the command system was set up so that only contacts received from the broadcast-managed by the TASWC-would be displayed. They could not be entered locally.
The centralized data collection concept that commandlevel doctrine is implementing as NCW is stuck in the mentality of the pre-hostilities, ISR phase. Vast quantities of data are received at central locations. This data is poured over by analysts and prioritized by command. Units get "cues," which they are sent to continue surveillance, or "targets," which they are sent to destroy. This is not network-centric; it simply uses network technology to speed communications.
Moving Toward Truly Network-Centric Operations
Examining the RimPac ASW exercise can demonstrate how a network-centric operation would have occurred. One of the concerns with submarines and surface ships in close proximity is the inability of surface units to determine friend from foe. Submarines are therefore normally assigned discrete water areas and given stringent rules for weapon release near those areas. In this exercise, however, the location of the subs was known with some degree of confidence. Instead of declaring large areas of water off limit to engagements, a dynamic furthest on circle could have served as the prohibited area.7 The response time would be significantly reduced by eliminating the need to clear the engagement.
Similar response-time reductions could be achieved in tracking and localization. In networkcentric operations, everyone is supposed to share data. The surface force has been doing this for years with digitally encrypted Link 11/Link 16. Recently, the antiair warfare (AAW) world moved to the next step with the cooperative engagement capability (CEC), which puts together data from several units, overcoming fades and other disruptions of a single source. The same view of data sharing should be implemented for surface and subsurface capabilities.
Those arenas, however, present greater obstacles. Unlike CEC's high positional accuracy, subsurface and even surface contacts are not so clear-cut. This uncertainty runs contrary to the command view of Link 11/16 and GCCSM. Doctrinally, the newer system requires a high degree of certainty before entering data into the system. With the AAW orientation of Link 11/16, which also means large numbers of contacts, only very restricted ASW data may be added for sharing.
Another issue limiting information sharing is the misapplication of security rules. For example, the DDG commanding officer's opinion was based on the belief that locations of U.S. submarines were so sacrosanct that they could not be disclosed, even though an exercise objective was to show how submarines and surface ships could work together. A similar situation plagues Tomahawk development. Targeting for Tomahawk is normally considered Top Secret (TS), so the Tomahawk Weapon Control System (TWCS) has to operate at the this level to receive its targets. As a result, the Tomahawk system is isolated from other shipboard systems. Because it cannot effectively receive the surface contacts from the combat system, the over-water portion of the route is harder to plot.
This link between the source of the contact data and the data itself must be broken if NCW is to succeed. Data must be presented in the correct amount, a principle that is rarely followed. Data should be limited to what the user needs. For example, a Light Airborne Multipurpose System (LAMPS) pilot doesn't care what sensor produced his cue, he simply wants a position for his Magnetic Anomaly Detector pattern.
As important as the right amount of data, data must be timely. Command units must stop treating direct combat forces as sensing units that get no feedback other than pointing instructions. When combat units report their detections, they need the staff to collate and return data in a timely fashion.
Combat units also must be integrated at the real-time level, a requirement that is being ignored to support the "big picture" networks used by the flag communities. A recent demonstration of Composable ForceNet showed that the Chief of Naval Operations could view sonar performance predictions based on data collected several minutes previously by a patrolling DDG. Nobody ever explained why the CNO would want to look at sonar prediction data in the course of his duties, but it made a pretty demonstration. In the meantime, the system sending the datapresumably supporting tactical ASW operations-could not reliably display the location of a consort to the operator on the destroyer.
Technology makes limitless data available, but operating concepts must define how to convert that data into usable information. We cannot just introduce technology, we must provide initial guidance on how to exploit it. Only then will we achieve the network-centric objective of the right information at the right time to the right user.
The Right Information at the Right Time
The development of warfighting systems must be guided by the question of who gets what information at what time. Perhaps it is time to take Admiral Giambastiani's C2 concept a bit further, splitting it into battle control (BC) and engagement control (EC).
BC would play the role of "coach," collecting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data, setting priorities, maintaining logistics, and providing overwatch. Like the basketball coach, BC would set the stage and monitor how the actual engagement was progressing. If something appeared to be going wrong, BC would provide information, resources, and direction as necessary. The actual execution of the engagement, however, would be supported by EC tactical elements.
The engagement component must be at least as robust as the battle component. Some ForceNet literature mentions tactical data links, but ignores them as nothing more than another communications path, rather than a critical enabling capability. It is a common complaint that network-centric operations take away unit responsibility and initiative. Done properly, however, command should recede into the background.
The 2003 Tomahawk Operation Assessment Group presented interesting examples of how this change might occur. Lessons from OIF made clear that although thousands of targets were generated before the war, few were used, and planning cells had to come up with new missions. Most of these new targets were based on new global positioning system capabilities. To further reduce timelines, missions were usually treated as secret, not top secret. Additional discussions on the introduction of Tactical Tomahawk showed that a ship so equipped could generate a mission independent of the planning cells.
This combination of operations and new capabilities leads to an interesting question. Are planning cells still necessary? The ATO already establishes deconfliction route plans. Target coordinates come from the coordinated strike planning center. Guided-missile submarines and the forthcoming DD(X) destroyer will do their own targeting. Moreover, the new destroyer will be integrating Tactical Tomahawk missions with gun engagements. An entire command level, Tomahawk mission planning, could be eliminated for most operations.
The idea of network-centric capability is timely information to provide the right weapon at the right place. For the Marines on the road to Baghdad, airpower was readily on call. Just as the German Blitzkreig used Stukas as "airborne artillery," the Marines depended on airpower and reserved artillery for more static situations. One of the main impediments, however, was the lack of tactical communications.8
Addressing this lack of tactical command connectivity should be a major effort. It cannot, however, use BC's commercial-off-the-shelf paradigm of large data pipes sending Extensible Markup Language files that can be read by humans. Combat forces, even surface ships, have limited bandwidth. The emphasis should be on compact, digital data. Link 11, for example, uses this type of data and it has been used tactically for more than four decades. The Army's Future Combat System similarly uses digitally encoded data.
Two keys are needed to make this part of network-centric operations work: intelligent push capabilities from the batle control aspects of the C2 network and giving more tactical units access to the engagement network. Intelligent push means getting away from the concept that everyone needs to get everything. Recent exercise proved that sonar screen captures and even streaming video can be sent among various units. No study has been done of how much of that information was useful and if it prevented other data from being sent. Using the bandwidth for better exchange of live contact data would probably have been more productive. In the same exercises, contact data was sent in various chat rooms, where, for the most part, it died. The data should have gone directly in the ship combat systems. In any case, the theater ASW commander, as the BC element, should have integrated the information and pushed position reports back to the front-line users.
Of course, pushing information is useless if front-line users cannot access the network. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Iridium satellite system began to remedy this problem. More recently, the Marines and Commander9 Task Force 12 have experimented with Iridium-based systems to provide low-speed modem connectivity to small, mobile units. This type of connectivity enables these units to coordinate their efforts on the fast-moving battlefield.
An Emphasis on Fighting Forces
During "Ring of Fire" experiments, targets were dropped into the queue and the first unit to pull it up executed the mission. When command decided this process needed management, the rate of engagement dropped. A recent Joint Fires Initiative experiment sought to enable components to swap targets. The experimenters reported that, "In order to swap targets, commanders need to be linked and interoperable .... Another aspect of the experiment was to see how efficiently commanders could coordinate target swaps directly with each othercompared to swapping them by going up the chain of command for approval .... The experiment found that using the chain of command was more "cumbersome."10 In other words, effective network-centric capabilities make it possible for higher command to stay out of the loop once their intent was expressed. A soldier on the ground should simply identify a target. A list of available weapons should be pushed to him and his PDA application will identify the best weapon for the target type. Similarly, SUW and ASW teams should be provided the bandwidth to exchange low confidence or intermittent data without fear of retribution. National asset data should be collated and entered into EC data links from a central location to prevent duplication.
At the same time, BC centers should revert to the overwatch and guidance position, concentrating on setting priorities for maneuver but backing off from targeting, except for strategic targets beyond maneuver unit range. They should coordinate the flow of weapon carriers to the maneuver units and set up deconfliction rules to support that flow. Automation, however, can reasonably follow those rules, so BC centers should not coordinate fire requests unless they see logjams.
This new world view, with an emphasis on fighting forces instead of command centers, will not meet Admiral Doran's goal as currently put forth. A sailor will still have no idea how operate a B-2 routing system and an airman won't have a clue how to correlate multipath sonar contacts. Having information at the command centers is nice but does not fill the need. But if a sub is snorkeling, thinking he's covert, and a B-2 can drop a time-delayed precision guided munition there in 30 seconds, the OS in the combat information center or airman on the Blue Ridge should be able to make that happen. History shows that strike operations enable victory but cannot win. Network- centric warfare should be about intelligent push of actionable BC data and effective sharing of data among EC elements. It must move the focus to the boats in the water and the boots on the ground. Front-line units concentrating on fighting, not communicating, is what wins wars.
1 Commander, Pacific Fleet Web site (classified).
2 Keith J. Costa, "Giambastiani Distinguishes Between C2, C^sup 2^ISR When Describing Info Tech Role In Transformation," Inside the Pentagon, 25 March 2004.
3 Keith J. Costa, " JFCOM Commander Outlines 'Good' And 'Ugly' In Iraq Lessons Learned," Inside the Pentagon, 25 March 2004.
4 Richard Lardner, "Army Criticism Of OIF Targeting Way Off Base, Air Force Says," Inside the Air Force, 31 October 2003.
5 Malina Brown, "Top Naval Officials Disagree Over Future Of 72-Hour Targeting Cycle" Inside the Navy, 20 October 2003.
6 Brown, "Top Naval Officials Disagree Over Future Of 72-Hour Targeting Cycle."
7 Dynamic capabilities are defined as a display that recalculates on a periodic or parameter update. Previous generations provided static results, displaying the result only for the time that the tool was selected. A dynamic furthest on circle would therefore increase in diameter every periodic, or whenever there was an update in the contact information.
8 Inside Washington Publishers, "Notes From The U.S. Naval Institute's Symposium In Virginia Beach, VA, Oct. 8-9, 2005," Inside the Navy, 13 October 2003.
9 CTF 12 operates as the Pacific Fleet Theater ASW Commander.
10 Jason Ma, "JFCOM Experiments With Target Swapping Through Joint Fires Initiative," Inside the Navy, 15 November 2004.
Lieutenant Commander Johns works for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab supporting antisubmarine warfare C2 and human system integration. He has more than 20 years of experience operating, designing, and testing weapon and combat systems. He directed the research and fleet introduction of the Tactical Decision Support Subsystem and Computer Aided Dead Reckoning Tracer.