Forum: Network-Centric Warfare Pro & Con
Con: Network-Centric Warfare Requires A Closer
Pro Network-Centric Warfare Offers Warfighting
with permission from SIGNAL
Magazine, May 2003, Copyright 2003, AFCEA, 4400 Fair Lakes
Court, Fairfax, Virginia, 22033-3899.
Warfare Requires A Closer Look
may be too ahead of its time.
By Lt. Col.
Edmund C. Blash, USAR
failures frequently arise when leaders ignore fundamental changes
in technology, doctrine or society. However, when leaders are
seduced into believing that there is a fundamental change in technology
or doctrine where none has actually occurred--for example nuclear
weapons in Korea or the use of the helicopter in Vietna--the result
can be equally devastating.
of networked warfare or network-centric warfare poses a similar
situation. Network-centric warfare is a generally new and technology-codified
concept for fighting future wars and conflicts with a preponderance
of technology as opposed to the traditional personnel, tactics
and logistics elements matrix. Indeed, it is the new "darling"
of the U.S. defense development community. Its unencumbered embrace
by both military and civilian defense officials is as great as
the embrace by pseudo-intellectual computer geeks of the concept
of free and open software or the irrational exuberance exhibited
by greedy Wall Street bandits during the technology stock bubble
of the late 1990s.
In its defense,
network-centric warfare is a concept worthy of further investigation,
research and development, and testing because its technical potential
is promising and novel. Without new theories and concepts, we
can never hope to maintain our technological superiority over
our real and potential adversaries. Should the concept prove viable,
additional funding should be advanced and actual prototype systems
implemented. However, in other historical developments and evolutions
in both the commercial and military arenas, the scientific and
technological innovations always came first. Then, enterprising
individuals and organizations placed these innovations into a
system or process for eventual practical or profitable application.
However, network-centric warfare, as proposed by various protagonists
of the idea, would be achieved by doing just the reverse: Develop
the science and technology based on the concept of network-centric
warfare, and sound implementation will occur.
this cart-before-the-horse methodology, tentative doctrine, warfare
theory and defense management are being planned today as if the
actual pieces of network-centric warfare are already developed,
and only an organization is needed to put the pieces into place.
This is wrong from a programmatic, scientific and engineering
space program is a prime example of how basic scientific and engineering
principles need to be in place prior to enacting any tangible
plan. A proven ballistic rocket rather than the X-15 high-altitude
space plane was used for Apollo because the science and technology
of the time simply did not exist for the space plane, while liquid
rocket propellant was a proven technology.
premise behind network-centric warfare theory is that it is a
totally new and evolved way to conduct military operations and
that the practices of the past are inefficient, if not irrelevant.
The concept represents the third generation of combat development
in modern warfare. The actual combat platform itself constitutes
the first generation; the linking and automation of the individual
platforms into a command and control system constitutes the second
generation; and the third, network-centric warfare, is a system
of systems dynamically linked with distributed and dynamic information
This is a
logical and progressive evolution in warfare, yet its tenets remain
undemonstrated and unproven to date. The network-centric warfare
objective needs further investigation and technological exploitation
for it to be developed into a workable system.
revolution in military affairs (RMA) originated in the Soviet
Union, which postulated that RMAs are usually declared after the
demonstrated manifestation of a material event, invention or discovery.
Network-centric warfare is based on the premise and demonstration
of X.25, distributed data warehousing, interconnected communication
suites and Internet technologies. These are all immature inferences--the
failure and compromise of which are being routinely illustrated
in the media. The term evolutionary is probably more appropriate
an over-reliance on technology as promulgated by network-centric
warfare advocates, just as the United States overly relied on
logistics and order of battle advantages in Vietnam. In Vietnam,
the United States won every battle engagement, but in the end
it did not matter, and terrorism presents a similar paradigm.
employing a mathematical, symmetrical battle match can still overwhelm
superior technology. This poses a problem to the United States'
ability to interdict militarily in the future in southwest Asia
where the military's order of battle, logistics and technology
will be severely tested.
breakthroughs are manifested and proven when operational commanders
take advantage of developed or emerging technologies and use them
to their operational advantage. Germany's use of wireless radios,
tanks, air power, motorized infantry and artillery in the Blitzkrieg
is an example of this principle. The U.S. Army's Training and
Doctrine Command is key to future combat developments to a certain
degree, yet the operational commanders will be key to its implementation
and execution on the battlefield.
use of information age technology for warfare is predicated on
maintaining the strengths of previous ages of development: agricultural,
maritime, industrial, aeronautical and electrical. The United
States does not maintain hegemony in all of these infrastructure
areas, and a weakness or deficiency in any area will impact another
infrastructure area, including the information infrastructure.
between civilian and military use of emerging technologies is
too simplistically insufficient in scope to serve as a viable
measurement. The extrapolation of network and information age
commercial applications does not readily equate with either the
capabilities, complexities, variables or functions that military
units will face in the future dynamic battlespace.
To a large
degree, network-centric warfare is fires, sensor and information
oriented; yet the tenets of mass, speed and maneuver are eclipsed.
Survivability now shifts and is engineered through distributed
modularity, not an inherent platform. System and platform independence
is eliminated under the concept. Consequently, if the system is
defeated, sensor or fire platforms are compromised.
warfare, technology has become a substitute for sufficient, rapid
logistical support. For the past 150 years, the national logistics
base has been the premise to fight and win all of the United States'
wars and engagements. There is no proof that technology alone
will suffice for a weak or insufficient logistical capability.
network-centric warfare is not optimized for asymmetric warfare.
Rather, it is optimized for a lighter logistical "tail" component.
While this is fine for some forms of warfare, it is not optimal
of network-centric warfare has additional shortcomings. It is
still inherently vulnerable to the mathematical concept of warfare.
Throw enough assets and chaos at the network, and it becomes vulnerable
to enemy exploitation.
warfare will require a new type of combat leader, one who can
master technology and information then make rapid and correct
decisions. There may be a bureaucratic inertia against the concept's
implementation and its optimal implementation once it is fielded
in its objective configuration. Institutional resistance has often
terminated viable programs in the past.
and networking alone are not substitutes for combat maneuver and
the massing of armed forces. As in a chess game, situational awareness
alone is not power and neither is pure knowledge by itself. Rather,
knowing the move to make, or analysis, in relation to an anticipated
enemy movement is key. Network-centric warfare is akin to a chess
game where the movement of pieces is more important than the power
and position of the pieces.
warfare offers great opportunities, and its concept should not
be ignored; however, there also are serious technological barriers
that must be overcome, especially if there is a definitive fielding
schedule to be achieved. Although scientific and engineering funding
will probably assist in developing many of the required technologies,
science and engineering technology frequently follow an independent
development path, and more funding will not necessarily bring
about a desired implemented system or entity. Science cannot be
relies on technology to make life easier, and this includes the
military forces as well. Science and technology have made U.S.
armed forces second to none in the world, yet it is not a total
or singular answer to all threats and situations. Sometimes technology
will fail, and sometimes it may even be irrelevant to an event
or situation. It is important not to place all the eggs in a single
most fundamental flaw in network-centric warfare is that it is
based on the premise that machine intelligence and analysis is
superior and can be substituted for work now being performed by
soldiers. However, no viable proof exists that software algorithms,
information fusing or Boolean decision analysis will be any more
successful than is the current soldier in the loop. It is important
to remember that the history of commercial computer networks is
replete with actual instances of massive communication, information,
security and processing failures. It is one thing for a Web site
or computer server to fail or be hacked; it is quite another for
U.S. military forces to encounter the same degree of failure.
Edmund C. Blash, USAR, is a military intelligence officer currently
serving with U.S. Central Command in support of operations Enduring
Freedom and Noble Eagle.
Warfare Offers Warfighting Advantage
are the new weapon of the information age.
By John J.
network-centric warfare broadly describes the combination of emerging
tactics, techniques and procedures that a networked force can
employ to create a decisive warfighting advantage. According to
John Keegan, author of A History of Warfare, it is similar to
the significant warfighting developments of the industrial age
and agrarian age in that network-centric warfare seeks to exploit
an order of magnitude change in an underlying source of power
to increase warfighting advantage dramatically. Paula Kaufman,
in an article she wrote for IEEE Spectrum, agrees with this opinion.
In the industrial age, power was primarily derived from mass and
the sources of power for moving mass. In the information age,
power is increasingly derived from information sharing, information
access and speed, she says.
network-centric warfare brings to the battlespace are particularly
relevant to the tactical and operational levels of war, but they
impact all levels of military activity from the tactical to the
strategic. Although the construct of an information advantage
may seem somewhat intangible, it can be measured, and its impact
on military operations can be evaluated in terms of mission effectiveness,
survivability and lethality--coins of the realm used by warfighters
across the ages.
of the power of network-centric warfare accumulated from a wide
range of activities, including combat operations, training events,
exercises and demonstrations, continues to strengthen and reinforce
its existing tenets. A U.S. Defense Department 2001 report to
Congress about network-centric warfare enumerates several specific
points: A robustly networked force improves information sharing;
information sharing and collaboration enhances the quality of
information and shared situational awareness; shared situational
awareness enables collaboration and self-synchronization and enhances
sustainability and speed of command; and these in turn dramatically
increase mission effectiveness.
the margin of victory has varied across mission areas, the outcome
has consistently been decisive in favor of forces that are robustly
networked. In some tactical engagements, superior platforms were
decisively defeated by less capable platforms that leveraged the
order of magnitude improvement in information sharing that networking
enables. In other engagements, digitized and networked ground
forces with a reduced number of platforms were able to substitute
information for mass and outperform units that had fought with
a larger number of platforms not similarly digitized and networked.
Even more impressive, the combination of networked and digitized
ground and air forces was able to defeat an opposition force decisively
with unprecedented lethality by creating and leveraging an information
military operations in support of operation Enduring Freedom highlighted
the emergence of near-real-time information sharing as a source
of warfighting advantage. The source of power was not new platforms,
but rather the networking of the legacy platforms with special
operations forces (SOF). The extent to which ground-based SOF
were able to share precision information with command and control
aircraft and fighter, bomber and attack aircraft was unprecedented
in military operations. It represented an order of magnitude increase
in information sharing over what had been previously demonstrated
anywhere in the world in combat operations.
Two of the
more noteworthy and documented examples of the power of network-centric
warfare are drawn from the air-to-air mission. In this mission
area, a major contributor to enhanced survivability and lethality
is an increase in shared situational awareness and enhanced situational
understanding. With audio-only communications, pilots and controllers
must share information generated by onboard sensors about opposing
forces as well as their own position and status via voice. Communicating
the minimum essential information required to take offensive or
defensive actions takes time, and the resulting situational awareness
can often differ significantly from reality.
when datalinks are employed on fighter aircraft, digital information
on blue and red forces is shared instantaneously, enabling all
participants to share a common tactical picture. This improved
information position constitutes a significant information advantage
vis-^-vis an adversary fighting with voice-only communications.
This information advantage in turn enables a cognitive advantage
in the form of dramatically increased shared situational awareness
and enhanced situational understanding. The result is that pilots
flying datalink-equipped aircraft can achieve much higher levels
of shared situational awareness and understanding on a timeline
previously unachievable with voice-only communications. They can
translate these advantages into increased survivability and lethality.
One of the
best examples of how networking and digitization can be leveraged
to create an information advantage took place in a training exercise
in the mid-1990s when Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado aircraft from
U.K. 29 Squadron with tactical datalinks defeated U.S. Air Force
F-15Cs with voice-only communications in a series of air-to-air
engagements that took place during a red flag exercise in the
airspace over the Nellis Air Force Base range. Historically, the
most favorable outcome that the absolute best RAF pilots could
manage when flying against F-15Cs was a draw. However, when the
RAF introduced a datalink in the form of Link-16, U.K. 29 Squadron
pilots, flying with new innovative tactics, were able to increase
their kill ratio over the F-15C equipped with voice-only communications
to approximately 4-to-1.
of information sharing to increase survivability and lethality
in the air-to-air mission was substantiated by the Air Force again
in the mid-1990s during a joint tactical information distribution
system (JTIDS) operational special project. Air Force pilots flying
F-15Cs with and without datalinks clearly demonstrated an order
of magnitude increase in information sharing enabled by the datalinks.
This operational special project consisted of hundreds of tactical
engagements, ranging in size from two-versus-two to eight-versus-16
aircraft, which were conducted during day and night conditions.
During the more than 12,000 sorties and more than 19,000 flying
hours, the average kill ratio for F-15Cs equipped with datalinks
increased by more than 150 percent over F-15Cs fighting with voice-only
communications, according to a JTIDS operational special project
report to Congress.
of the growing body of evidence highlights a very strong relationship
between information advantage, cognitive advantage and increased
lethality and survivability at the tactical level. It shows that
these relationships are not unique to the air-to-air mission but
rather that they were demonstrated first in this mission area
as a result of the relative maturity of the application of networking
technology in this arena.
story line of increased warfighting effectiveness enabled by networking
has been played out in counter special operations forces mission
Fleet Battle Experiment Delta; counter anti-access, Fleet Battle
Experiment Foxtrot; multinational rapid reaction forces, Allied
Command Europe Mobile Force-Land; and combined arms maneuver warfare,
Division Capstone Exercise-Phase I (DCX-I).
the blue force was digitized and networked to an unprecedented
degree. Equally important, these forces were highly trained on
this digital equipment and in many cases had developed new tactics,
techniques and procedures to leverage their improved capability
to operate in the information domain. The digitized and networked
ground forces demonstrated significantly improved warfighting
capabilities and were able to prevail over the opposing forces
in a number of engagements.
during one phase of the exercise, the blue force was in a defensive
posture with the opposing force moving to contact under the cover
of darkness. A significant column of armor was detected by the
joint surveillance target attack radar system and positively identified
as hostile by a Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle, Col. Fred Stein,
USA (Ret.), explains. An analysis of the real-time blue ground
picture indicated that the attacking opposing force column was
located approximately 10 miles from the brigade combat team's
defensive positions. The brigade commander, in consultation with
the division commander, decided to engage the hostile force, and
the fire mission was assigned to close air support. At this point,
the engagement departed from the usual script, which had been
characterized in the past by some as an exercise in futility,
according to an internal correspondence from the Air National
Guard Air Force Reserve Test Center.
A/OA-10s of the Arizona Air National Guard equipped with the situational
awareness data link (SADL) performed a close-air-support mission.
The networking of these aircraft enabled them to exchange real-time
targeting information as well as to receive and display a forward
trace of the blue ground picture. The result of this networking
was more than an order of magnitude improvement in the ability
of ground and air forces to share information.
to being equipped with SADL, the F-16s were equipped with Lightening
II targeting pods and a mixed weapons load of GBU-12s and AGM-65D
Mavericks. The Forward Air Controller-Airborne (FAC-A) determined
that employing the F-16s as a coordinated pair would maximize
combat power. In engaging the ground targets, the A/OA-10 FAC-A
identified targets of interest and distributed sensor points of
interest over SADL to facilitate sensor cueing by the F-16's Lightening
II targeting pod. Employing these tactics enabled each wave of
two-ship pairs to engage tanks selectively and avoid dropping
ordnance on less significant targets.
damage assessment of the first wave of F-16s was "two battalions
rendered combat ineffective." Follow-on flights of F-16s were
equally lethal, according to the Air National Guard correspondence.
The net result of this engagement was that this phase of the training
exercise had to be recocked to enable ground forces to accomplish
their training objectives for hasty defense and counterattack
successfully, Col. Stein says. This transformation of close air
support at night from an exercise in futility to devastatingly
effective combat highlights the efficacy of network-centric warfare.
of digitization and networking on the combined arms fight, specifically
the impact of digital close air support, is described in an Army
evaluation of DCX-I. "The National Training Center is a playing
field that often humbles the visiting team," it reports. "However,
during the U.S. Army's Division Capstone Exercise-Phase I, the
visiting team, in the form of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division,
supported by elements of the U.S. Air Force, including elements
of the Arizona Air National Guard, were able to leverage the power
of an order of magnitude increase in information sharing to turn
the tables on the opposing forces on at least two occasions. Of
particular significance was a devastating defeat of opposing forces
at night by F-16 and A/OA-10 aircraft performing the close-air-support
militaries are crafting their individual responses to the challenges
and opportunities of the information age. They are taking actions
that demonstrate an increased understanding of the sources of
information age warfighting advantage. A new vocabulary has developed
that reflects the subtle variations in underlying strategies and
core missions of militaries worldwide. To varying degrees, these
actions also are reflected in emerging concepts and doctrine,
focused investments in key enablers and well-crafted programs
warfare, currently used by the armed forces of the United States,
Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, other coined terms include
Australia's network-enabled warfare, the United Kingdom's network-enabled
capability, the Swedish armed forces' network-based defense and
the armed forces of the Republic of Singapore's knowledge-based
command and control. Each of these terms reflects its respective
military's ongoing response to the information age. Clearly, militaries
worldwide are continuing to take a close look at network-centric
warfare and related concepts for information age warfare. Evidently
they like what they see.
John J. Garstka
is the assistant director for concepts and operations in the Office
of Force Transformation, Office of the Secretary of Defense. He
has spoken and written extensively on the topic of warfare in
the information age.
information on network-centric warfare is available on the World
Wide Web at www.oft.osd.mil.
with permission from SIGNAL
Magazine, May 2003, Copyright 2003, AFCEA, 4400 Fair Lakes
Court, Fairfax, Virginia, 22033-3899.