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Submission to the Naval War College Review

Dr. Edward A. Smith, Jr.
(703) 465-3319

Word Version

Network Centric Warfare:
Where's the beef?

What is Network Centric Warfare? Where's the beef? Most attempts to answer these questions seem to emphasize the "network" and the new technologies used to create more effective sensor and communications architectures. These architectures, it is argued, will enable us to create and exploit a common situational awareness, to increase our speed of command, and to "get inside the enemy's OODA loop." 1  Yet, descriptions of the technologies and capabilities alone can leave us asking the same questions. What is it? Just what does it bring to warfare? Why is it so critical to America's future military power that we must give up other capabilities to buy it?

These persistent questions point to the need for a different emphasis, one that focuses first on the "warfare" side of the equation. That is, we need a working warfare concept of what we are trying to do with network centric operations before we can create the necessary information architectures. Such conceptual work can help us not only to recognize the potential in networking but can help us discern the limits and limitations of the changes we propose. It also can provide a fundamental understanding of the role of network centric operations both in battlefield and across the spectrum from peace through war, as well as in our national security and national military strategies. An evolving working concept is, in short, the first step in drawing a road map for building a network centric "Navy after next."

As we gradually build this working concept, we need to bear some common-sense caveats in mind. We are not likely to find in any network a single universal technological solution to all our warfare problems. Older forms of warfare are likely to persist alongside the new. Greatly accelerated speed of command will be a critical measure of our success, but numbers and endurance will still count. Enhanced common situational awareness will multiply our power, but knowing our enemy will be more critical than ever. Adversaries will respond and, the more successful our concept of warfare, the more asymmetrical their responses are likely to become. Our objective in network centric warfare is not to provide a single answer or to provide all the answers. It is to identify those combinations of new thinking and new things that offer better answers to our warfare needs on as many levels of war as possible and over as great a portion of the spectrum of conflict as possible. The measure of our success will not be the quality of the network or the quantity of firepower we build but rather, what effect the networking of combat resources enables us to have on the enemy. That suggests two things.
-First, our concept of network centric operations will be intimately tied to an understanding of effects-based warfare, that is, a results-oriented process centered on the relationship between our actions and specific desired enemy reactions.2  Network centric operations are the "enabler" for effects-based warfare. The shared situational awareness, speed of command, precision, "lock out," and other capabilities we seek to effect in network centric operations are the tools needed to implement effects-based warfare. Indeed, we can almost begin to think in terms of a single working concept of network centric effects-based warfare.
-Second, as this connection between network centric and effects-based warfare implies, our working concept must step beyond the problems of the tactical battlefield engagement. It must address how network centric operations can be used to produce decisive effects in theater/ campaign level operations and in the politico-military and strategic dimensions of war. Even more, it should address how such capabilities might help us translate our warfare prowess into a broad stabilizing deterrence running from peace through crisis and war.
The better our concepts and technologies, the more often and more widely network centric warfare will be applicable. And, the more often it works, the better will be our success in deterring future conflict.

For the United States, the success of both network centric warfare and effects-based warfare is likely to hinge on how they enhance our ability to project decisive military power over vast distances. Power projection is one of the pillars of our National Military Strategy and is the focus of the Navy's .From the Sea. The reason is simple. It is the capacity to project decisive military power across the world that makes the United States a global power and undergirds a national security strategy founded on engagement and shaping. This requirement is rooted in America's geography. Because the United States lies far from most of the regions in which it has vital interests, it must deploy its military power to the regions where it is needed if it is to be effective.3

Projecting decisive power is costly. Not only is it expensive to transport and sustain forces over vast distances or to maintain the capability to do so, but the distance tends to attenuate the quantity of conventional forces that can be deployed and sustained. To apply decisive military power at considerable distances from the American heartland, the United States has relied heavily on high technology to multiply the power of the forces it projects. These force-multiplying technologies are at the root of network centric warfare and effects-based warfare. Both concepts may be enabled by new technologies, but there is clearly much more to them. Their real power derives from the combination of new thinking and new technology applied to a new, more decisive style of expeditionary warfare.

Technologies, Synergies and Force Multipliers

Using technology to multiply the impact of military forces seems almost axiomatic. But, how do we identify which technologies in which combinations hold the most potential? Then, how do we make them decisive both in battle and across the spectrum of conflict? That is, "how do we fight smarter?" 4  The information technology at the core of network centric operations is one obvious force multiplier, but there is clearly more to the technological revolution than computers and communications. What we really are seeing are three on-going global technological revolutions, each with great military import but under only limited military control.5

  • Sensor Technologies. The revolution in sensor technologies is twofold. On one hand, there is a movement toward more and more capable sensors, especially satellite-borne sensors able to achieve near-real-time surveillance over vast areas. On the other, there is a movement toward dispersed fields of smaller, cheaper, and more numerous sensors, ultimately including those based on nano-technologies. Fields of sensors, both space-based and local, might then be netted to detect, locate, identify, track, and target potential threats or vulnerabilities, and to disseminate vast quantities of surveillance data to all levels of command. Thus, we stand to create a new "shared situational awareness" that is "global in scope and precise in detail." 6


  • Information Processing Technologies. The revolution in information technologies will bring a geometric increase in computing power and, hence, increases capabilities of all forms of computer applications including communications. Over the next 10 to 15 years, increased processing capabilities will provide the means of processing, collating, and analyzing the vast quantities of sensor data. It will provide military forces with the ability to handle those vast amounts of data quickly and begin to apply automatic correlation. It also will provide the means of distributing information7 to any designee or "shooter" anywhere in the world at near real time speeds. Over the longer term, therefore, the information revolution offers military planners what amounts to a blank check to create whatever "network" they may need to support operations.8  The limit is that of imagination rather than of technology.


  • Precision Weapons Technology. The weapons revolution is not toward increasing weapon accuracy so much as it is toward more efficient production. Current accuracy is sufficient to exploit the vast majority of potential targets in the world, but cost and limited numbers make precise weapons "silver bullets" to be used only sparingly. However, this seems poised to change. Redesign, incorporation of new electronics, lean manufacturing, and mass production can result in a sharply decrease in cost for a given level of accuracy and capability -- and, thus, increasing numbers and more widespread deployment of more lethal missiles.9  Similarly, better networking and targeting data streams from external sources can enable us to use cheaper guidance packages on precise weapons, also decreasing cost.

Separately, each of the three individual revolutions promises significant change, but only when they are taken together does the potential for the revolutionary new synergies embodied in network centric warfare begin to emerge. Without the new sensors, targeting10 would never be sufficiently broad, accurate, or timely to exploit the potential of highly accurate weapons. Without the information structure, any set of sensors would quickly submerge the system with so much data as to make it unworkable. Without adequate numbers of low-cost, precise, long-range weapons, successes in sensing and information processing could not be translated into a decisive battlefield effect. What is more, each revolution is an on-going trend that will continue for decades to come. There is no single technology or system to be mastered and incorporated into warfare, rather a continuing, uneven succession of developments will create staccato opportunities for change in our own and our adversaries' forces and capabilities.11

As we pursue network centric warfare, therefore, we must accept that there will be no immediate conclusive answer, but rather a rapidly evolving situation in which we must be able to identify and grasp technological opportunities as they occur. There also are two further complications.
-First, since the evolving sensor, information and weapons capabilities will interact and multiply each other's effectiveness in a kaleidoscope of potential synergies, we should expect a geometrically increasing set of possible outcomes.
-Second, while we must assess the utility of each new technology in the context of warfare as we know it, the technologies will also change the character of warfare dramatically.
The situation is analogous to the triple revolution in guns, armor, and propulsion that marked warship design in the fifty years between 1862 and 1912.12  That three-fold revolution introduced a period of trial and error experimentation and forced such rapid change in warship design that new units were obsolete within a few years of fleet entry. It also brought forth Mahan and a fundamental rethinking of what navies could do.

Our problem, thus, is not simply to integrate information technology into our current way of war. It is rather to manage a complex iterative process in which the synergies generated by a succession of sensor, information and weapons technological developments will redefine the character of warfare and lay the basis for a precise effects-based approach. New technologies will continually present new possibilities that will make our working concept, of necessity, a "work in progress." The changing concept will in turn suggest still more ways in which those or other technologies may be applied, and so on in an unending cycle. Our challenge is to identify the evolving synergies, to adapt them to the power projection needs of the United States on a continuing basis, and do so within the defense budgets we are likely to have.

As this suggests, a static "if you build it, they will come" approach focused solely on communications architecture would leave us just reacting to individual technology developments as they occur, and making only incremental changes. Harnessing the rolling synergies of this complex technological revolution will require a broad, long-term perspective wide that encompasses both the potential impact of the new technologies' on our military power and the derivative impact of new capabilities on our operational and strategic objectives. We must ask not simply how new technologies might handle existing tasks better, but also what we might now do that we have never been able to do before.

This would indicate that our conceptualization should start by identifying the defining military capabilities that derive from the combined impact of the sensor, information and weapons revolutions. We can then assess how those capabilities affect the character of military operations in peace and war, then how new technologies might be made to interact to produce a desired effect, and finally, how that effect might be enhanced by new organization, training, doctrine and tactics.

Precision, Speed and . Flexibility

From the military standpoint, perhaps the most striking common element in the new technologies is the increased precision and speed that may now be possible in military operations. Evolving sensors will provide more and better data, thereby enabling military operations to be more and more responsive and exact. Evolving information technology will enable us to handle the vast quantities of data from the sensors quickly, and to meld the resulting situational awareness with the information needed to control and support our forces. Increasing numbers of highly accurate weapons and forces, in turn, will enable us to exploit the information we acquire on the battlefield.13 In each case, the result of applying the technology is an increasing ability to be highly exact in our operations, and to generate a pace of operations that would not heretofore have been possible. The more successfully we develop and combine the technologies, the more exact, and the more nearly real-time our responses to battlefield threats and opportunities are likely to become. This relationship suggests that to optimize technologies or explore potential synergies, we must first understand the potential impact of precision and speed on warfare.

What do precision and speed do for us? The starting point is the realization that "precision" lies in the effects achieved and not in the arms and systems employed. We must talk in terms of effects-based warfare. To achieve precise effects, we must do more than simply identify a target or category of targets. We must know the specific political or military effect we seek at each level of war. Thus, we must identify which enemy vulnerability or target subjected to what form of duress where, when and for how long will create the precise effect we seek. This is far more than seeing where the enemy is or tracking his forces. It also means that we must be able to assess not only the potential military impact of our actions, but also the potential political, economic, or other impact upon the enemy and even upon our own public, e.g. collateral damage. Nor is that all. We also must be able to generate the right force at the right time, and then monitor measures of effectiveness that will test our success - a requirement that far transcends conventional notions of bomb damage assessment and focuses instead on enemy will. Finally, if we are really to make the most of the precision our technology permits, we must be able to do all of this reliably in the heat of battle, and quickly and accurately enough to take advantage of each fleeting opportunity.

In short, to be decisive in anything more than a one-time, pre-planned strike, we need more than speed and precision. We must be have a third element, operational flexibility, i.e. the ability to change from one rapid, precise operation or tactical engagement to another at will to exploit the opportunities and deal with the threats of a changing battlefield. We need to be able to compress a relatively complex targeting and command and control process until it fits the nearly real-time dimensions of a battlefield engagement. These requirements are at the center of ideas like "speed of command," "the ring of fires," and "time critical targeting." Each of these ideas makes intuitive sense, and each can be understood in the context of a limited engagement, such as a call for fire support or a long-range strike. The key to understanding how both the concepts and the new technologies fit together is "network centric warfare."

Network Centric Warfare and Combat Efficiency

VADM Arthur K. Cebrowski, the leading proponent of "network centric warfare," has described it in terms of the more efficient application of combat power. This idea of combat efficiency as the true measure of the success of network centric warfare clearly steps beyond the tactical C4ISR focus. It implies a fundamental change in how we think and operate as well as what we use, and it demands an understanding of how the precision, speed, and flexibility of military operations that the network can produce change what we can do with the forces we will have available.

As Cebrowski puts it, traditional military operations usually occur in stair step fashion. A mission is assigned and planned; forces are generated and coordinated; and finally, an operation is launched that concentrates this power on an assigned objective. As a result of this inaction-action cycle, military power tends to be applied in spurts. The horizontal part represents

the periods of inaction during which the coordination and force generation functions are undertaken, while the vertical part of the step or "execution" equates to the power applied.

Cebrowski contends that a network centric approach to warfare would enable us to move from this highly coordinated cycle of operations ("planned synchronization") to what is effectively a smooth curve defined by a multitude of smaller, semi-independent operations ("empowered self-synchronization.") Given the power of the shared situational awareness created by the network, it would no longer would it be necessary to initiate an action, wait to see its impact or an enemy's reaction, decide on a further action, and so on, in the manner of Col. John Boyd's famed Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop.14  The availability and immediacy of information on the network would permit us to accomplish this cycle on a nearly continuous basis at all levels of command in order to achieve a new form of "empowered self-synchronized" operations. That is, the network would permit us to decentralize or flatten the command structure, taking the control function down to the lowest practicable level of command and shortening the response cycle by removing unneeded levels of command and control. Finally, as training and organization improve at all levels, the pace of the semi-independent operations should accelerate further to create a new "speed of command."

As Admiral Cebrowski's diagram underlines, the contribution of network centric operations is much more than speed. Rather, by permitting individual units to "self-synchronize" and substantially increasing the speed of operations, the network enables us to optimize the combat power of our forces and to regain "lost combat power." Put simply, it suggests that network centric warfare is not about communications. It is about combat efficiency.

Creating Disproportionate Effects

What is "combat efficiency" and how do network centric operations generate it? In essence, combat efficiency is the degree to which we can optimize the impact of military power. In effects-based warfare, this efficiency is denominated in terms of how successful a given unit of combat power was in inducing the enemy to react in the desired way. This measure is more complicated than the traditional Lanchestrian tallies of bombs dropped versus forces destroyed, but it drives to the heart of the role of precision in warfare. It says that effective military power is not a function of how fast we attrite an opposing military force, but of how well we force the enemy to yield -- and by extension how successful we are in avoiding an attrition exchange altogether. Such a definition conforms well to the challenge confronting us in the expeditionary warfare of the 21st century: to enable relatively small forward forces to create effects that are disproportionate to their numbers.

Admiral Cebrowski's discussions of network centric warfare suggest that there are in fact two distinct levels of combat efficiency. The diagram points to the first level. It outlines the potential role of network centric operations in enabling us to apply combat power better, faster, and in greater quantity. The admiral, however, clearly points beyond this limited goal and sees in the "better, faster, more" a means to something more. Speed, precision and flexibility combined with a superior knowledge of the enemy can enable us to seize and sustain the initiative on the battlefield, to "lock out" any meaningful enemy response, and to break the enemy will to resist rather than slowly grinding down his means of resisting. It is this latter second level of combat efficiency that promises the greater return, but is also the most challenging.

Better, Faster, More: The First Level of Combat Efficiency

While the admiral's depiction of the increased combat efficiency deriving from accelerated self-synchronized operations makes intuitive sense, it leaves some questions to be answered. For example, how much of the efficiency accrues from better communications and information and how much from better organization, training and doctrine? How does the power of shared situational awareness translate into increased efficiency? Further explanation is in order.

One approach to providing such an explanation is to combine VADM Cebrowski's depiction of the traditional stepped application of military power with Col. John Boyd's Observe, Orient, Decide, Act or OODA loop. Although the OODA loop was originally conceived as a tactical engagement circle, it is now commonly applied to exchanges at the operational and strategic levels as well. In this case, we will take an additional step and employ it to describe both decision making and power generation and use the orient/decide phases to equate to the period required for gathering and directing the military force to be applied. If we further look at Boyd's OODA loop not as a circular, repeating loop, but as a series of linear cycles occurring in succession over time, we can overlay these linear OODA cycles onto the step functions in the Cebrowski diagram. Boyd's Observe, Orient and Decide phases then would equate to the horizontal part of the step function or delay while the Act phase would constitute the vertical or application of force phase. Plotted on axes of time (x) versus cumulative application of military force (y), the "steps," then become OODA cycles that are repeated as often as necessary with Act adding to the total of the military force applied.

This overlay permits us to dissect the individual steps by defining what the "observe," "orient," "decide," and "act" phases might actually entail in terms of specific operational functions. By doing this, several additional insights emerge. For example, the "observe" process includes the steps necessary to acquire the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting data needed to act. It entails getting the right sensors looking at the right targets or threats so as to collect the right data, and it includes transmitting that data, information or intelligence to the right person or system at the right time. This phase is clearly the domain of network centric warfare, of sensor-to-shooter architectures, and of concepts like nodal targeting. Thus, the observe phase lends itself very well to new information and sensor technologies and holds great promise both of significant time compression and greater precision. But, there is a limit to this compression. Precise effects-based warfare will demand more than sensor-based awareness. It will require us to identify both the specific vulnerability we need to act against and the desired result. To do this, we need to know the enemy. The process of creating such knowledge of the enemy will draw on sensor information, to be sure, and will be subject to some time compression as a result, but it is much more a matter of creating regional expertise and extensive regional and technical intelligence databases. In short, we will find ourselves reintroducing the human dimension into the loop and expanding our reliance on functions that must be carried out over months and years, and essentially, must be completed before the battle even begins. This means that the increasing speed and precision brought be new sensors and information technology can only shorten the OODA cycle to the degree that such long term collection and analysis has already been done and is available on the net.

A similar limit emerges as we move to the "orient/decide" phase15 of our redefined OODA cycle. Better information and situational awareness can help us to avoid mistakes and permit a more efficient use of assets. However, the time required to generate combat power and, hence, the length of the "orient/decide" phase is only indirectly affected by better information. This is because the timing is dictated by the succession of physical steps necessary to generate the right force in the right numbers to achieve the effect we seek. For example, we might have to move the carrier within range of the objective, plan and brief the mission, fuel and arm the aircraft, and launch the right planes to do the job, and then sustain our strikes as long as necessary to achieve our objective. Although better, more reliable information can help, the process remains a collection of physical functions that must be completed before we can produce the military power needed and apply it to an "act" phase. Each of these functions has its pace determined by the physical capabilities of the systems and people involved. The carrier can move only so fast, the planning process compressed just so far, or the flight deck operations hurried along only so much. The major "delays" associated with these physical steps in the orient/decide process are functions of how we organize, train and equip our forces, and have little to do with information flows. Hence, they stand to be improved only marginally by network centric warfare taken in its narrow connectivity sense.

Moreover, much the same is true of the "act" phase. To carry the example further, the aircraft we will have to launch must proceed to the target area, a function of distance and air speed. Then, they will have to drop or launch their weapons, a function of weapons characteristics such as stand-off range and speed. Thus, the time required to complete the "act" phase depends on the kind of forces being used and the physical parameters of the combat situation, much more than on the speed or scope of the information flow.

The lesson is clear. Optimizing the OODA cycle and increasing our "speed of command" is as much a question of finding out how to organize the information we need and how to accelerate the process of generating combat power and moving it to target as it is of speeding the forces' communications. Increasing combat efficiency, therefore, must necessarily be a multi- pronged effort.

The strike generation experiment run by the USS Nimitz in 1997 is illustrative of how changes in organization, training, and equipment can be combined with network centric approaches to warfare in order to create a more efficient use of combat forces. The purpose of the experiment was to maximize the number of sorties a carrier could generate and sustain, that is, to increase the combat efficiency of a carrier battle group. To do this, the carrier beefed up its air wing with more pilots, abandoned traditional cyclical operations16 in favor of new high-speed cyclical operations, and relied on accompanying missile ships for its air defense. The result was a demonstrated capacity to generate approximately 1,000 carrier air sorties over four days or around five times the usual number of sorties. To further enhance its impact, Nimitz also armed the aircraft it launched with precision weapons and began to define its power projection in terms of target aim points attacked rather than planes launched. Thus, if each aircraft carried four precise weapons, each of which could reliably destroy an aimpoint, then the total the effect would be one of 4,000 aim points attacked over a four day period by a single carrier.17  However, generating more sorties and attacking more aim points would be of little consequence if not accompanied by an ability to identify the right targets, prioritize them, coordinate the strikes and assess the effects of our actions at a rate at least equivalent to our ability to generate the sorties. The "effects" created by the Nimitz demonstration, thus, stemmed from two capacities: to conduct strike operations at a heretofore inconceivable rate, and to use each of those strikes to its fullest advantage.

To apply our OODA perspective, Nimitz and its air wing established a new faster physical operational cycle. By training differently, changing the way in which operations were planned and organized, and by augmenting selected personnel, they increased the speed at which their military power could be generated. However, as the changes imply, the accelerated OODA cycle that resulted was peculiar to that particular class of carrier with that particular air wing organized and trained in this specific manner embarked.18

The implications of the Nimitz demonstration are significant for several reasons. First, the Nimitz operation shows that the power generation portion of the OODA cycle and hence the cycle as a whole can be shortened by the use of better equipment, organization, training and information. And, indeed, subsequent operations by other Nimitz class carriers bear out that similar changes in equipment, organization, training and information can have a similar impact. Second, if the changes could produce different length OODA cycles, then the OODA cycles of each individual military force also may be expected to vary with equipment, training, and organization. Stated in reverse, a different class carrier with a different air wing containing different aircraft would not be expected to perform in the same way. Third, if this line of reasoning is carried a step further, we also should expect that dissimilar military forces will have different, even radically different OODA cycle lengths. For example, the Nimitz' cycle would differ from that of a cruiser firing a cruise missile, and the cruiser's OODA cycle, in turn, would differ markedly from that of a squad of Marines engaged in a fire fight. If the analogy is extended further to joint and allied forces, the same disparity should be apparent. Air Force B-2 bombers operating from bases in the United States have a demonstrably different OODA cycle from a Nimitz class carrier operating 300 miles from the battlefield.19  Similarly, any allied operation, especially one where individual national Rules of Engagement are enforced, is likely to have to deal with widely different OODA cycles. The bottom line is clear. Different kinds of combat forces with different equipment, organization and training generate distinctly different OODA cycles of very different lengths.

The battlefield represents a complex interaction among very different kinds of military forces with OODA cycles of widely varying length. To use a more specific example, at one extreme, a SEAL insertion would necessitate the acquisition of some very exact intelligence on enemy operations in the target area. Then it would require detailed planning, and rehearsal perhaps followed by a submarine transit to the operating area, a swim ashore, and a trek to the target, likely with an attendant requirement for cover of darkness. At the other extreme, the squad of Marines engaged in a fire fight, if it is to survive, must create a very short decision making/OODA cycle. Each Marine becomes the sensor, coordinator, and shooter all wrapped up into one. The members of the platoon rely on training, doctrine and the immediate presence of a platoon commander to coordinate the individual action and to sustain the pace of the exchange. However, if the squad were to require assistance, it would have to deal with forces whose reaction or OODA cycles might be very different. A call for fire to a destroyer off shore might require the ship to move into position and/or man the guns, load and fire, as well as a delay for the round fired to reach the target designated. If the call for support went instead to a carrier

off-shore, then the Marines' call for support and targeting data might have to be married with other observations as to the state of enemy anti-aircraft capabilities in and en route the target area. Then the appropriate strike or reaction package would have to be generated, crews briefed, and aircraft armed and launched. Finally, the aircraft might have to proceed to the target area and the launch of its weapons with the forward observer. Obviously in each of these cases, response time would be greatly shortened if the ship were on the gun line ready to fire or the aircraft were overhead or on strip alert nearby. However, two things are apparent:


-That, in shortening the power generation OODA cycle, improved C4ISR is only one part of a much larger operational challenge; and
-That, any effort to increase the "speed of command" must focus on the diversity of OODA cycles generated by the very different forces that are likely to play on the modern battlefield. The more diverse the forces, the greater the problem is likely to be.
The above also underlines the nature of the coordination undertaken by the combat commander. Putting the ship into a position to fire, or stationing the aircraft overhead or on strip alert nearby entails coordinating their different OODA cycles so that they can act simultaneously or when needed. This means that their "act" phases must be alligned so that all earlier aspects of force generation have already been satisfied. In battle, the commander "coordinates" the different OODA cycles of the forces under his command so that the "act" phase of each of his differing forces strikes the enemy at the same time or in some prescribed sequence. This kind of coordination is a necessary facet of battlefield operations, however, something else needs to be borne in mind. What is happening is that the commander deliberately keeps most of his units from achieving their optimum OODA cycle length or pace of operations in order to mass effects or to be mutually supportive. To carry our example further, if it were necessary for an air strike to incapacitate an artillery position in order to enable several platoons of Marines to reach an objective, and if that in turn were contingent on the SEALs taking down a surveillance radar en route that target, then the entire operation would be tied to the pace of the SEALs. That is, by the planned synchronization of the OODA cycles, we have held our entire effort hostage to the speed of the slowest OODA cycle.

Obviously, there are many situations in which it will be operationally necessary to mass effects in order to create the greatest shock value, or to prevent the enemy from defeating our forces in detail.20  But there is a price to be paid. The result of massing forces or effects is that less force is applied than if each force, system or unit had been permitted to operate at its own optimum rate. This means foregoing those cycles of applied combat power that might have been generated by quicker paced forces during the time in question. Moreover, as Admiral Cebrowski's step diagram underlines, this massing of effects in a "planned synchronized" attack may occur time after time with the timing of each wave of massed attacks contingent on the pace of the slowest unit.21  In effect, by optimizing mass, we minimize efficiency.

Here is where the question of flexibility becomes important. Precision and speed may permit us to reduce the length of our OODA cycles and, thereby, increase the pace of our operations, but alone they are insufficient to realize the revolution -- or prevent it from backfiring. Efficiency is not enough. Rather, we must be able both to conduct rapid, semi-independent operations and to mass forces and effects as required to deal with changes in the enemy threat or to take advantage of emerging battlefield opportunities. We need to be able to change the mode, direction and objectives of our actions just as much as we need to bring speed and precision to targeting. That is, we must be flexible to a degree that we have never before managed.

Network centric operations are at the heart of this flexibility. The flexibility and the speed and precision it exploits all derive from the amalgam of information, sensors, and communications that constitutes the information back plane of network centric warfare. The "network" permits us to undertake more actions in a given time, to focus those actions better, and to act and react both faster and with more certainty. Yet, all of these "better, faster, more" attributes by themselves still add up to little more than a more efficient form of attrition. How then do we make the leap to a level of efficiency that would permit us to "break" the enemy will rather than grind down his means of waging war?

Breaking Enemy Will: The Second Level of Combat Efficiency

The first level of combat efficiency can be reduced to aim points serviced, volume of fires generated, or damage inflicted on enemy forces and capabilities. While such combat efficiency remains the critical, irreducible core of what we must be able to do, it also understates the real pay-off that may be possible with network centric approaches to warfare. In fact, the ultimate objective of the network centric warfare described by VADM Cebrowski is not to wear down the enemy's physical ability to make war at all, but to instill a sense of "shock and awe" that will create a "self-fulfilling prophecy" of defeat. These ideas and, indeed, the example of the 1940 blitzkrieg itself, suggest that the route to the next level of "combat efficiency" is not applying even greater amounts of combat power over shorter periods of time. It is instead a foreshortening of the combat itself by breaking the enemy will to resist long before his means to resist have been exhausted -- and long before the full panoply of US forces might be expected to arrive in the crisis area.

The precision, speed and flexibility that lie at the core of the concept of the "empowered self-synchronization" are, in fact, the entry point to this second dimension of combat efficiency. This "break not grind" level of combat efficiency can perhaps best be described in terms of two ideas. The first is the concept of "getting inside the enemy's OODA loop," and the second is that of inducing and/or exploiting chaos. The starting point for both ideas is the realization that "breaking" is a psychological rather than a physical process and that our efforts, therefore, need to focus on the enemy's decision making process and his ability to take action in some coherent manner.

"Getting inside the Enemy's OODA Loop"

If we return to our OODA cycle diagram, we can hypothesize that any "act" or application of combat power can be seen in two ways. From the standpoint of first level attrition, it is an effort that attacks, destroys, or in some way degrades the enemy capability to wage or sustain a war. Yet, that same "act" can also be seen as a stimulus that the enemy will "observe" and factor into his decision making process. The more significant the action on our part, the more of an effect it is likely to have on the decisions the enemy makes. This "significance" is not solely a function of how much we destroy. It is at least as much a question of what we attack, when, and how fast. If the stimulus is significant enough, the effect may be to force the enemy to reconsider his course of action and, perhaps, to begin his OODA cycle all over again, that is, we will have disrupted his OODA loop. If a succession of stimuli have a similar impact, then the effect might be not only to disrupt his OODA loop but to create an almost catatonic state of "lock out" in which the enemy can no longer react coherently.

The requirements for second level combat efficiency are stringent. If we were only concerned with a first level wearing down the enemy ability to wage war, then to increase efficiency, we would only need to increase the size and frequency of the attacks we generate, i.e. the total quantity of power applied. However, if we are trying to break the enemy's will to resist, then our actions must be tightly coordinated so as to put the right forces on the right targets or vulnerabilities at the right times so as to produce the right effect on his decision making cycle. To make matters still more difficult, what we face is not a single enemy OODA cycle in the manner of a one-v-one fighter engagement. Instead, we will have to deal with a multiplicity of different OODA cycles that, much like our own, represent different units and forces operating simultaneously at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of conflict.

A pointed, if serendipitous, example of such a disruption occurred in the Battle of Midway. In that battle, intelligence derived from breaking Japanese codes enabled the Americans to anticipate the Japanese attack. The Americans, thus, detected the Japanese carrier force first and launched the first attack. When the Japanese commander, VADM Nagumo, first received word of an American carrier in the area, and then was attacked be carrier based torpedo planes, he was obliged to reconsider his plan for an attack on Midway. He re-oriented his effort and ordered his aircraft rearmed for a fleet action. The indication of a US fleet in the area, in effect, "reset" the Japanese OODA cycle. Then, as the Japanese planes were being rearmed and their fleet's Combat Air Patrol (CAP) was engaged in low level intercept of the American torpedo planes, the dive-bombers in the disjointed American attack (the second dotted blue arrow) struck catching the Japanese carriers with decks full of planes and bombs. The chaos that they created in the ensuing minutes not only ended the whole attack on Midway, but also proved to be the turning point in the Pacific war. In effect, the sighting of one ship and the torpedo plane attack -- a relatively small application of force in the scale of the entire battle much less of the whole war -- had a decisive impact on the Japanese OODA cycle at just the right time, forcing them to begin anew.

The success at Midway was a matter of uniquely significant intelligence and breathtakingly good luck. The challenge for network centric operations is to repeat this accidental effect reliably, predictably, and at will. How do we do that? If we compare the Japanese and American OODA cycles at the time of the torpedo attack, it becomes evident that the OODA cycles were out of phase. If the American and Japanese attacks had been in phase, the strikes would have crossed in the air and struck empty decks on both sides without the disastrous consequences for the Japanese and possibly with dire consequences for the smaller number of American carriers. But, American intelligence knew the Japanese effort was coming, American reconnaissance located the Japanese fleet first, and the American carriers launched first. That is, the Americans completed their observation, orientation, and decision phases in time for the air strike "act" to hit the Japanese when they were most vulnerable, and before they could initiate a fleet action. The American success, then, rested partially on careful preparation -- the intelligence, reconnaissance, and early launch of aircraft -- as well as on the serendipity of a disjointed arrival of the strike elements over target.

If we are to emulate Midway, we must strike the enemy at the right time and then to continue to strike at the right time as often as necessary. This challenge is twofold. We must both judge the enemy's OODA cycle correctly and coordinate our own actions with great exactitude so as to make our attacks or other actions occur at the right time. To do this, our intelligence and reconnaissance inputs must be sufficiently precise and reliable to let us time the enemy OODA cycle correctly. They must include the kind of "battlespace awareness" that enabled the American fleet to get its strikes off first, to be sure, but they must also enable us to know the enemy's OODA cycle sufficiently well to identify and exploit the critical junctures.22  And, we must be able to coordinate our own actions so as to be able to sustain controlled high- tempo operations on the edge of chaos, and not just a serendipitous reinforcement of actions, like the torpedo and dive bomber aircraft at Midway. It is exactly these two challenges that we are attempting to grapple with in the ideas of network centric warfare, speed of command and battlespace awareness. However, there is an additional problem. Barring some unforeseeable breakthrough, our intelligence and reconnaissance is not likely to enable us to achieve such knowledge of the enemy reliably, consistently, or at all levels.23

How then might network centric operations enable us to bring about another Midway? One solution is to multiply the number of opportunities to repeat the Midway serendipity. The more often we provide a stimulus, the greater the chances we will have the effect we seek on the decision enemy's making process. Taken to an extreme, we can try to so overwhelm the enemy with new developments to consider that he must continually revisit his decisions, re-orient his efforts and, perhaps, pause for further observations to the point that no action is actually taken.

We could try to do this by using new sensor and information technologies to improve our C4ISR capabilities and thereby increase our pace of operations. In effect, we could apply combat power in the same increments and much the same manner as before, but would use new information technology and better communications plumbing to shorten the length of our OODA cycles and compress the time over which that power is applied. This would multiply the number of impacts on adversary decision making over a given period and increase the likelihood of striking at the "right time" to disrupt the adversary's cycle. It certainly helps, but as the time required to generate the combat power can be compressed only so much, something more is needed to achieve a greater pace and frequency of stimuli.

Another approach would be to orchestrate not one large operation at a time, but to apply the same total amount of power in more numerous if smaller increments. The length of the individual OODA cycles -- as dictated by the physical requirements for generating combat power -- might remain the same, but the overall application would be in overlapping cycles staggered so as to maintain a rapid succession of stimuli. In effect, we could build on training and a universally available "battlespace awareness" to separate our actions into smaller, semi-independent, self-synchroinized operations, each of which could generate a stimulus sufficient to affect the adversary's OODA cycles.24

This approach has obvious limitations. The more we diminish the size of our actions, the more vulnerable they will be to being defeated in detail. However, the better our command and control and battlespace awareness -- the potential fruits of network centric warfare -- and the better our knowledge of the enemy, the less risk this will entail. If we can further use the flexibility the network brings to anticipate enemy actions and to aggregate or disaggregate our actions at will, then the danger would be diminished still more.

Or finally, we can combine the last two approaches. We can both multiply the number of cycles and compress the time needed to execute each cycle. We might apply the same total amount of force in the same overlapping increments as above, but would do so over a much shorter period of time, for example, half that of the previous approach. In essence, we would use our expanded C4ISR capability to liberate individual forces to operate at something more closely approximating their OODA cycle maximums and by so doing multiply the number of OODA cycles we execute.

This suggests a very different analogy from that of Midway. The torpedo squadron attacks on the Japanese fleet acted like a rapier thrust that attacked the Japanese OODA cycle at just the critical time, a feat which we acknowledge will be difficult if not impossible to duplicate reliably. The accelerated, multiplied stimuli suggest an attack more akin to that of a swarm of bees. Even though no single unit may have a decisive impact, the overall effect is to leave the victim swinging helplessly at attackers coming from all directions and unable to mount any coherent defense save retreat.

This "swarm" approach poses a series of significant new challenges. How do we coordinate the swarm of operations so as to achieve military objectives apart from interfering -- perhaps without success -- in the enemy decision making loop?25  How do we know when to mass forces or effects so as to avoid being defeated in detail? And, how do we assess the effectiveness of our efforts and then feed the results of these assessments into the next round of orient, decide and act phases? Will the enemy know he has been defeated and cease his resistance? Or, will he simply continue to swat at the attacks until he can no longer do so, that is continue a blind attrition war?

To be effective, the "swarm" will need to work toward a unified set of military objectives under the same commander's intent. But to achieve the brief cycle times, the elements of the swarm would need to operate as largely self-contained, self-coordinated individual operations. In short, our forces would need to become self-synchronized and self-adaptive. We could then move our own operations toward the edge of chaos as needed by deliberately undertaking a proliferation of independent operations. Finally, we could use this ability to create and operate in a state of controlled chaos, that is, to conduct operations that are so fast and so unconnected as to risk spinning out of control in any but a network centric force, thereby securing an asymmetric advantage to ourselves.

This approach comes closest to the smooth empowered self-synchronization action-reaction curve proposed by VADM Cebrowski. It also begins to lay the foundation for a new understanding of how we might induce chaos. In essence, we provide so many stimuli that the adversary can no longer act coherently, but constantly must revisit the earlier stages of his OODA cycle to ask. "Does the act which just struck me invalidate the assumptions upon which my currently intended course of action rest? Does it demand a redirection of my effort? Will an additional attack come and will it force me into revisiting my plans yet again?" The result would be a catatonic inability to act, that is, a "lock out."

Exploiting Chaos

The principle of chaos in warfare is not new.26  It is as rooted in Sun Tzu as it is in Napoleon. Clausewitz talks in terms of exploiting the fog and friction of war to drive the enemy into a rout, that is, into a state of chaos.27  The essence of the German blitzkrieg in 1940 was that it induced so much chaos into French and British efforts that a coherent defense was no longer possible and resistance collapsed more or less simultaneously at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. The German success rested on a combination of new technologies used in a bold new "lightening" thrust by armored columns that left Allied forces no time to form an ordered defense. In brief, the Germans operated at such a speed and with such flexibility that they instilled "shock and awe" and created a "powerful self-fulfilling prophecy" of defeat and French resistance at all levels collapsed.

Recent writings on "chaos" 28 theory have drawn a comparison between the concept of chaos in physical systems and its application to warfare. They point out that the boundary between chaos and order is particularly important because that boundary is a region in which very small inputs or changes in system parameters can have very large impacts on the whole system, and even cause it to collapse. The implication for military operations is that we might be able to create situations in which relatively small applications of military power can have a highly disproportionate and potentially decisive impact. This ability would have a particular significance for expeditionary warfare and forward presence because it is a way in which the relatively small numbers of forces that can be maintained forward or deployed quickly might be able to use speed, precision, and flexibility to be decisive in peace or war.

The idea sounds good but leaves many questions. How do we define this boundary in operational terms? How do network centric operations permit us to exploit it? One approach is to define this edge of chaos in terms of the intensity of the military operations. We can describe this intensity in terms of the pace and the scale/ scope of operations, as plotted along the x and y axes of the graph below. We can understand intuitively that the more we increase the pace of our operations (x), the more difficult they will be to control or focus. Similarly, the more we increase the scope and scale of our operations (y), the more difficult they will be to control. By extension, we also can surmise that, at some point along the x axis, there would lie an operation so rapid that we will no longer be able to coordinate or focus it. Similarly, at some point along the y axis, there will be an operation of such a size or scope, e.g. global thermonuclear war, as to cause us to lose control of our forces and to lapse into chaos. In short, we can identify a set of two transition points from order into chaos. Figuratively, then, the "edge of chaos" would be a line drawn between these two points that touches all the various combinations of scale/scope and pace of operations that define the limit of what we can control or coordinate, i.e., a set comprising all of our order-to-chaos transition points. Beyond this line, lies a region of operations

that are so large and/or so rapid that we cannot hope to execute them and remain a coherent viable force, that is, the zone of chaos. Within the line, lie all of the operations we can control, that is, the zone of order.

In this context, "chaos" can be understood as a zone within which military operations become so rapid and/or assume such a scale and scope as to become uncontrollable, thus, un-focused, incoherent or chaotic, such as in an "every man for himself" battlefield rout.29  The opposite of this battlefield chaos is "order" -- military operations whose scale, scope and pace permit them to be precisely controlled, coordinated, and focused on a given objective.30  Historically, when armies and navies have met in battle, at least one tactical objective has been to drive the enemy force from order into chaos. But how do we identify or create situations in which we can do this reliably, with a minimum of force, and without risking to lose control of our own forces? That is, how can we identify and exploit an operational edge of chaos?

By defining these transition points in terms of the size and pace of operations that can be successfully generated and controlled, something else becomes obvious. The edge of chaos is not fixed. It is constantly changing. As the Nimitz demonstration underlined, the better trained and organized our force is and the better its command and control system and its integration of sensors and weapons, the greater the scale and pace of operations it will be able to sustain without losing control.31  Stated differently, a highly trained and organized force using sophisticated equipment will be able to operate safely at a pace and scale of operations that would cause a less well-trained and equipped force to lapse into chaos. Better equipment, training, and organization, therefore, can enable us to drive our transition points further out along the x and y axes and define a new edge of chaos.

However, this implies something else as well. Just as the OODA cycle varied from one force to another, the edge of chaos will vary from one force to the next. Not only will the forces be composed of different units, differently equipped, manned, trained and organized, but each unit may be expected to evolve over time as these factors change as, for example, in battle. This suggests that the opposing forces in any battle are likely to have very different edges of chaos specifically because their personnel, equipment, training and organization are different. Thus, if we were to plot an adversary's edge of on the same graph with our own, we probably would find two different sets of transition points and two distinctly different edges of chaos.

In fact, these two different edges of chaos define three zones:

  • Zone 1 encompasses all the combinations of scale/ scope and pace of operations in which neither side will be able to control or focus, that is, the zone of chaos;


  • Zone 2 defines a complex asymmetric region in which our better equipped and trained forces will be able to control and focus our operations while the enemy will be unable to do so; and


  • Zone 3 encompasses all the combinations of scale/scope and pace of operations in which both sides will be able to maintain control and focus, that is, the zone of order.

By definition, neither side will be able to operate successfully in the zone of chaos (Zone 1), and we would derive no special tactical advantage from operating at a scale and pace of operations that permits the enemy an orderly focused response, that is the zone of order (Zone 3).32  However, the boundary region represented by Zone 2 offers the prospect of the kind of disproportionate impact outlined in chaos theory. It is a zone of inherent complexity and asymmetry in which superior information, training, organization and equipment can enable us to operate at a rate, scope and scale that the enemy simply cannot match. We can use this asymmetry to confront the enemy with a dilemma. If he attempts to react to our rapid paced attacks, he is likely to lose control of his own forces and cross the line into chaos, but if he fails to react, he stands to be either pummeled into submission or confined to time-late, pre-planned actions.33  In short, we can use our ability to operate beyond the enemy's edge of chaos to induce a state of despair in which further resistance either is, or appears to be, futile. By extension, we can accelerate this process by using the information network to focus our efforts precisely on those vulnerabilities that will drive the enemy into a state of chaos.

How does this relate to the empowered self-synchronized operations to which VADM Cebrowski refers? Strangely enough one good example is the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in which Admiral Nelson destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleets. The essence of that battle was Nelson's bold move to break through the French-Spanish battle line in two places and then concentrate his forces on bite-sized portions of the enemy fleet. The basis for Nelson's confidence that such a risky operation could be successful was what could be described as a cerebral networking that had been created among Nelson and his ship captains to whom he referred as a "band of brothers." That networking had been formed by more than eight years of combat operations together. Nelson, therefore, was confident that all of his subordinates would perceive the developing situation in the same way, that is, they would have a shared situational awareness.34  He was equally sure that his commanders not only understood his commander's intent, but that they would exploit aggressively any opening in the enemy line and carry through mutually supportive actions without further direction. Thus, Nelson's directive to the fleet on the day of battle could be limited to a single, inspiring, if not otherwise very helpful, "England expects every man to do his duty." Nothing more was needed. The commanders knew what to do.

This contrasts sharply with the situation of the opposing commander Admiral Villeneuve-Joyeuse. His force was larger than that of Nelson and in many ways technologically superior, however, it lacked any semblance of the cerebral networking that Nelson had forged with his subordinate commanders. The French commanders were either new or had spent the war years blockaded in port. They distrusted each other even as Villeneuve distrusted his own judgment. Added to this was the problem of coordinating operations with a separate Spanish fleet with which the French had never before operated. The best Villeneuve could do was to form the fleet into a conventional eighteenth century line of battle in which two opposing fleets in ordered, parallel battle lines would pound each other until one or the other struck or sank. This was the limit of his ability to control an operation of this scope and complexity.

When Nelson refused battle on these terms and instead broke through the French-Spanish line, the increased pace of operation that he forced on Villeneuve immediately exceeded what the French-Spanish ability to cope and invalidated their numerical superiority. Villeneuve lost the ability to fight a coherent battle and largely lost control of all his forces save his own flagship. His ships, although bravely fought, became part of general chaos in which substantial French and Spanish forces never entered the battle.

What the ideas of network centric warfare do is to permit us to, after a fashion, replicate the cerebral networking of Nelson's band of brothers without the preceding eight years of combat operations together and without the common situational awareness possible in a slowly developing eighteenth century naval battle.35  They also have the potential to permit us to do something more than: to use information, speed, and precision to create a multi-level strategic, operational, and tactical collapse analogous to the blitzkrieg of 1940. That suggests that our basic RMA challenge is to improve sensing, targeting, power projection and generation, and so on, both to create a Zone 2 asymmetry and to exploit it.

.and Asymmetric Warfare?

There is a hitch. However mesmerizing Nelson's band of brothers may be, we need to stretch our reasoning further and ask, what would happen if the Zone 2 situation were reversed? What if the enemy could manage a pace of operations greater than our own in a given area of competition? What if the conflict were a Viet Nam or Somalia and not a Desert Storm? Under these conditions the enemy's edge of chaos may not lie entirely within our own as diagrammed. Instead, the two edges of chaos would cross, and we would be confronted with a fourth zone in which the situation was reversed. The enemy would be capable of undertaking operations of a pace and scope to which we could not respond quickly or effectively.

In fact, the potential for such a reversal points to a dangerous underlying assumption in much RMA thinking: that the US will always be superior because it will always be faster and better. The reality is that the pace of operations is not solely a function of technology, but can also be created by decentralizing operations so as to conduct larger numbers of smaller operations. This is much the same as we undertook to do in multiplying the number of OODA cycles in hope of disrupting the enemy decision making cycle. Here too, the foe can choose to trade centralized control for speed and scope of operations. In so doing, he may lose at least some of his ability to mass effects or to concentrate the weight of his forces on a specific objective. However, if the effect he seeks derives from the pace and scope of the attacks rather than from the amount of destruction, or derives from a cumulative effect, then the trade-off may be very acceptable. In other words, the enemy could create a fourth zone in which he could operate successfully using small units and decentralized control, but in which we could not respond coherently using large formations and centralized control. That is, he could attempt to confront us in a zone where our traditional approaches to controlling forces in combat can become counterproductive.

The importance of this fourth zone is even more evident if we look at the respective edges of chaos plotted on a graph with three axes: one for pace, one for scale, and a separate orthogonal axis for scope. Here, the enemy has two measures he can take. He can decentralize his forces breaking them into smaller self-synchronized units, and he can disperse them over a wide area to make a coordinated and timely response on our part more difficult.

In fact, this corresponds rather closely to the second stage in the Maoist theory of guerrilla warfare. The guerrillas use dispersed formations so small that they can no longer be targeted effectively by the heavier forces of the enemy. These forces then conduct large numbers of small raids across the breadth of the countryside that are so dispersed and rapid as to be completed before larger scale opposing forces can be brought to bear.36  Their objective is first to challenge the government's control of the countryside, then to seize control of the countryside and isolate the cities, and finally, to use the control of the countryside to attack the remaining government bastions in the cities. Since the effect of this approach depends on the pace and scope of the operations rather than damage to any specific set of targets or forces, the control of the operations can remain highly decentralized.37  This was the essential problem we confronted in Viet Nam.

Mohammed Aideed used a variation of this approach adapted to urban warfare in Mogadishu. Aideed's forces, often little more than disorganized bands of street fighters, operated on a decentralized basis in an urban jungle staying below the size threshold for effective US and allied reaction but maintaining an almost continuous harassment of allied forces with these small units. In Aideed's case, the objective was not to defeat US military forces or take and hold urban territory, but rather to block effective action by US forces and inflict casualties that would lead to US withdrawal and a political vice military victory.

This discussion and these examples imply a slightly different understanding of chaos. They infer that chaos need not be solely a loss of control over one's forces. It could also be a situation in which the size of the forces involved and delays associated with generating and using such combat power prevent us from accomplishing our objectives, a zone in which the use of large units and centralized control becomes self-defeating.

How might network centric warfare address this dilemma? Obviously, one aspect of the applicability of network centric operations is the power of superior knowledge and shared situational awareness. Together, they would clearly reduce the freedom of action that an enemy might gain by dispersing and decentralizing his forces. However, the key to denying the enemy an exploitable asymmetry is to operate faster than our decentralized foe. We must move our own edge of chaos further out along the x axis of the diagram until decentralized operations no longer confer any advantage on the enemy and until our own flexibility enables us to mass our superior scale of power at will. We can do this by increasing either the number of operations we undertake or the speed at which we accomplish them. By decentralizing, the guerrilla or street fighter has opted for increasing the number and decreasing the size of operations. We might respond by doing the same, as for example, by resorting to a small unit ground war. Or, we could increase the pace of our operations along the lines outlines in the discussion of first level combat efficiency. Or again, we could use some combination of the two. In each case, precise, information-based, network centric abilities enable us to safely increase the pace of our actions because the network enables us to retain control in high-speed complex operations. More significantly, the network enables us to operate our forces as -- in the terminology of chaos theory -- a "self-adjusting complex adaptive system." That is, we can decentralize our operations to whatever degree is most effective and efficient giving local commanders the control envisioned in "empowered self-synchronization." At the same time we retain the dominance of scale and can mass effects while matching or nearly matching the pace and scope of enemy operations at will.

Achieving this second level of combat efficiency can sound like an almost impossible task, but in fact, the effort forces us to begin to define the basic requirements for implementing a network centric effects-based warfare. In effect, the evolving rough concept of what we are trying to do gives us an increasing understanding of what we will need. That understanding lets us approach the on-going technological revolutions with specific requirements, while the revolutions, in turn, provide us with a new grasp of what might be possible.

Conclusion: A Reality Check

If we are to be clear minded about network centric warfare, we must acknowledge both that there is indeed "beef" in the concept, but also that there are risks involved. Certainly, empowered self-synchronized operations can leave forces open to defeat in detail. Certainly, operating at the pace, scale, scope and complexity that is being proposed can leave us skirting chaos ourselves if we are not careful. In both cases, the networking of combat resources and the shared awareness promises to avoid the peril while realizing the advantages of speed, precision and flexibility. However, therein lies an additional risk. If we adopt a network centric approach to warfare, how well will we be able to function if the network is somehow degraded? Could we unwittingly be building a single point failure into our nation's military capability? There are as yet no definitive answers to these questions and concerns. Answers to them and to hundreds more questions yet to surface will have to be worked out in years of effort still ahead.

What we do know is that we must proceed. Balancing these risks is the enduring American need for effective power projection. Like it or not, we will have to depend on relatively small numbers of forward forces to create decisive effects for conventional deterrence, peacekeeping and peacemaking, crisis response, and conflict -- all in the face of an adversary's best efforts to prevent their success. This will clearly necessitate reliance on force multipliers and some form of network centric operations. The real issue is not whether we need to do so, but how we get there. (11,759 words)


1  The Observe, Orient, Decide, Act cycle that Col. John R. Boyd USAF used to characterize a fighter engagement and that has come to be applied to the decision making process in general. John R. Boyd, "A Discourse on Winning and Losing," Air University, August 1987.

2  The process to identify the actions, the reactions and the linkages between occurs separately but interdependently at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of warfare. Properly carried out it should produce a cascading designation of increasingly specific effects and military objectives. The strategic impact desired is defined by the National Command Authority is defined and tasked to the CINC or JTF operational commander who translates that impact into sets of military objectives to achieve them. These are then tasked to the appropriate tactical level commanders who identify and task the specific military actions to achieve them.

3  This was the central idea in Forward.From the Sea that spoke of a series of overseas "hubs" from which sea-based American power radiated.

4  ADM J.M. Boorda, Address to the Naval Strategy Forum, 14 June 1995.

5  Walter Morrow, "Technology for a Naval Revolution in Military Affairs," Second Navy RMA Round Table, 4 June 1997.

6  Ibid

7  Although the word "information" will be used here in the current broad understanding encompassing both intelligence and surveillance data, it is worth noting the distinctions draw in the intelligence lexicon. In this usage, "data" is the raw untouched input direct from a source or sensor with no attempt made to judge its validity or accuracy. "Information" is data that have been collated to establish a relationship with other known facts. "Intelligence," then, is information that has been analyzed to derive the meaning and implications of the information, that is, in the sense of "knowledge of the enemy." These same distinctions apply to the terms "data," "information," and "knowledge."

8  The almost geometric rate of change in information and other technologies turns our Cold war link between technology and strategy on its head. Rather than carefully developing military technologies in government programs and then applying the capabilities developed in the context of new strategies and tactics, post-Cold War technologies are largely developed for a civilian market and at a rate far faster than government efforts during the Cold War. In effect, the pace of change is uncontrolled and threatens to outstrip our strategic and tactical imagination.

9  This trend is already evident in the falling unit price of the Navy Tomahawk cruise missile from $1.2 million ten years ago, to less than $700 thousand in 1998, to the prospect of $300 or less before the next decade is out - a roughly 50%drop every ten years. RADM Daniel Murphy, "Surface warfare," Navy RMA Round Table, 4 June 1997.

10  To think in terms of "effects," the word "target" must be used in its broadest sense, not in the traditional context of facilities and forces to be destroyed by attacking it with weapons, but as a focus of our actions, a vulnerability to be exploited.

11  Notice that this coincides very directly with the idea that a true RMA needs to be successful on the strategic and operational level even more than on the tactical if it is to achieve victory.

12  That is, the period between the Monitor and the Merrimac and the birth of naval aviation.

13  The weapons will give us the ability to destroy, degrade, isolate, etc. the targets developed and selected by a command structure that is able to observe the unfolding of its plans in near-real time and that is thus in a position to adapt to changes as they occur.

14  John R. Boyd, "A Discourse on Winning and Losing," Air University, August 1987.

15  In Boyd's tactical engagement loop, "orient" and "decide" are separated into two phases, however, this separation becomes difficult to distinguish in more complex operations, especially at the operational and strategic levels of war. As used in this paper, the orient and decide phases are combined and used to define the period of time necessary to generate the right force to achieve the right effects.

16  The carrier air wing started with intense "flex-deck" operations but soon discovered that the flight deck became unworkable. They, therefore, switched to an aggressive concept of cyclical operations that enabled them to launch more aircraft while maintaining better order on the flight deck. Interview with RADM John Nathman, 11 February 1999.

17  Although the demonstration ran for four days, the "surge" need not have stopped there. If the carrier had then been rearmed and replenished from accompanying resupply ships, the rate could have been maintained, with brief periods off-line, through successive "surges." If multiple carriers had been operated as a battle force, not only could the numbers been further multiplied, but the carriers could have been rotated through the replenishment cycle so as to sustain an uninterrupted high level of strikes for some protracted period of time. Ibid.

18  In the Nimitz case, this meant an air wing composed of low maintenance, quick turnaround F/A-18's that could readily undertake five or more sorties per day.

19  The more joint the forces applied to the problem, the more different the OODA cycles are likely to be. The Libya bombing in April 1986 is a good example. Although initially planned as a carrier air strike, the inclusion of Air Force F-111's operating from bases in the United Kingdom, while militarily sound from the standpoint of capabilities, introduced a completely different set of operational time lines including a need to secure overflight permission -- in any event denied.

20  The D-Day invasion of Normandy is one example. The success of the Allied attack hinged on so overwhelming the local German resistance with massed forces or effects that the allies could get ashore and establish a defensible beach head. That meant coordinating an almost inconceivable range and variety of operations to cut interior German lines of communications simultaneously.

21  This is similar to the speed of convoys during World War I and II. The speed of the convoy was that of the slowest ship. Consequently, convoys were separated into slow and fast depending on the ships' fastest speed. The slower the speed the greater was the vulnerability to U-boat operations, but the consequences of a failure to convoy were still higher losses. This dilemma was one reason the British resisted convoying at the beginning of each war.

22  In the Midway example, because the forces were very similar in character, the length of the US and Japanese OODA cycles would have been roughly similar. In a conflict between two dissimilar forces, that would not be the case making the OODA cycle that much more difficult to predict.

23  Despite the best surveillance picture or "battlespace awareness" we can generate, the ultimate determinate of the speed and direction of the enemy decision making cycle will be the enemy himself. Such "knowledge of the enemy" is not the result of sensor data but of analysis based in large part on sporadic human intelligence reporting. We cannot, therefore, depend on having the intelligence when we need it or, indeed, on collecting the needed data at all.

24  Note that in each case the total amount of force applied remains constant and that what varies is the way in which that force is applied.

25  The caveat on military revolutions warns us to be prepared to deal with the question "what is if it does not work." Thus, actions undertaken by the swarm cannot focus solely on the potential impact on the decision making cycle, particularly if, as noted earlier, it is unlikely that we will have enough information to predict that process with great exactitude.

26  It should be noted that the idea of inducing chaos will hardly be a new concept to ground forces for whom the primordial challenge is to control very large numbers of actors in battle. In the ground context, "breaking the enemy will to resist" equates to causing the enemy to lose control and disintegrate into a chaotic "every man for himself" rout. While this understanding remains operative to be sure, the focus of the chaos sought here lies at the operational and even the strategic level even more than of the battlefield.

27  Barry Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, NDU, Washington, D.C. pp. 105ff.

28  Maj. James uses the example of a water faucet that will drip with an annoying regularity. As the flow of water is increased the frequency of the drip increases but the regularity remains. However, when the flow is increased even minutely beyond some definable rate, the drops no longer have time to form and the drip changes abruptly to a sporadic -- that is chaotic -- flow. The very minor increase in flow has caused the physical system to become chaotic.
Maj. Glenn James USAF, Chaos Theory, The Essentials for Military Applications, Newport Paper 10, Naval War College, Newport, R.I.: 1997, p. 15-16.

29  It is worth making a distinction here between a tactical level chaos that induces the enemy to take flight and a strategic level chaos that may induce irrational behavior. The latter would be a very dangerous development in the case of a power armed with nuclear weapons or prepared to resort to terrorism. Between these two extremes lies in which inducing "shock and awe" is a tool that can be used to achieve specific effects calculated to support our political and military objectives. However, implicit in the idea of effects is a risks versus gains analysis that applies to chaos as to all other effects.

30  The model that springs to mind is that of the Army of the Potomac under McClellan during the Civil War. The Army was so perfectly ordered that it was only reluctantly and hesitantly committed to battle and failed to press the South's vulnerabilities or produce a decisive victory. By contrast, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia operated close to the edge of chaos. It foraged for supplies, moved and struck with an efficiency that put it well inside the OODA loop of a succession of Union generals. By 1865, however, Grant's unyielding pressure had pinned down the Army of Northern Virginia in front of Richmond and Petersburg and deprived it of this ability. Indeed, from the standpoint of logistics, Grant turned the table on Lee and drove Lee's supply system into chaos.

31  In the Nimitz demonstration, the air wing set out to conduct "flex-deck" operations which were thought to offer the fastest turnaround and sortie generation. What they soon discovered was that this "clobbered" the deck making it difficult to move even as many aircraft as they routinely did. In effect, they had reached the edge of chaos for flex-deck operations. Then, they adapted to the new requirement, and instituted a new form of accelerated cyclic operations that not only avoided the previous bottlenecks but enabled them to operate comfortably at the new higher pace. Nathman, Op. Cit.

32  It should be noted here that under some circumstances such as in a confrontation with a nuclear armed opponent, it may be necessary to operate in this zone of order so as to avoid the risk of an irrational act or and uncontrolled escalation.

33  One example of this is the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The Egyptian Army's "edge of chaos" could not hope to match that of the Israelis. Therefore, the Egyptians were forced to resort to a highly planned pre-emptive operation in which virtually all actions were pre-scripted. That gave them an initial success in crossing the Suez Canal, but left them largely incapable of responding to Israeli counter-action.

34  As the two fleets took more than three hours to close, there would have been a fairly comprehensive common situational awareness by the time the battle began.

35  Nelson's approach to the opposing fleet at the slow pace of a sailing ship would have allowed ample time for the commanders to observe the enemy line and any potential gaps in that line that they might exploit. The cerebral networking provided a common understanding of how such gaps might be exploited and how each might provide mutual support and exploit any further opportunities that might be observed during the battle.

36  While the length of the OODA cycle of any individual enemy action may be longer than our own network aided cycle, the aggregate impact on our own operations can be almost continuous in the manner of a hailstorm. This would be especially true if the "effect" sought by the enemy derived not from levels of destruction or military objectives achieved but from the sheer quantity of stimuli presented over time.

37  The most difficult task in a guerrilla war is identifying the moment to shift from this decentralized warfare used to wear down enemy resistance and confine him to the cities, to the more centralized effort that will be required to take control of the cities and the entire country.