Network-Centric Warfare Key to Combat Power
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2004 Within 10 years, U.S. forces around the world will enjoy greater combat effectiveness as a result of network-centric operations. That's a vision John Stenbit has pursued for the past two years, and it is already bad news for America's enemies.
Stenbit is the assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration, and DoD's chief information officer.
The term "network-centric warfare" broadly describes the combination of emerging tactics, techniques and procedures that a fully or even partially networked force can employ to create a decisive warfighting advantage.
NCW increases combat power by networking sensors, decision makers, shooters and their weapons platforms to achieve shared situation awareness, increased speed of command, high tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability and a degree of self-synchronization.
Stenbit said that to truly understand NCW, it's important to take a historical look at how forces have operated in the past.
"Up through the mid-1970s, the paradigm of command and control and information exchange was the telephone. I knew your phone number, and when I wanted to call you, I did. In that kind of paradigm you're stuck in place and you're stuck in time," he explained. "Wherever you happened to be, if you moved, the phone number didn't go with you. If somebody called you and you weren't there, there wasn't even an answering machine.
"You have to think of it as a pretty static system," he continued. "When somebody would find out something, they needed to be smart twice they needed to be smart enough to know that it was important to tell somebody, and then they had to be smart enough to know who needed to know it, and that second part is really hard if it's outside your normal bureaucracy."
Since that time, Stenbit said we now have moved into what he likes to refer to as "the direct broadcast TV paradigm," in which there are multiple channels of information received simultaneously among many places around the world.
"Now, if somebody finds something out, he doesn't need to know who has the gun, all he needs to know is how to get the information he needs on the broadcast system. And if you're the guy with the gun, you don't need to know who's seeing things -- all you need to do is listen."
He used the example of the special forces soldier in Afghanistan, who, while riding a horse with Northern Alliance forces, was calling in air support.
"So what you had was a B-2 or B-52 pilot -- who didn't know this guy, didn't know his frequency, had no knowledge of how that guy was operating -- getting the word he wanted a bomb, and it would happen," Stenbit said. "That's an enormous change."
He refers to this type of operating mode as Smart Push -- the ability to gather data from a lot of sources, put it together and make decisions based on the data.
He said Smart Push was used very effectively in both Afghanistan and Iraq. During a visit to Afghanistan, Stenbit said he got a first-hand look at Smart Push in action.
"At one base, there were about 1,000 people with a large area network, including about 10 satellite dishes all looking in different directions, and taking data from those broadcasts, putting it together, and then working the problem of what the data meant to what they were facing that day."
In Iraq, Stenbit said the Smart Push concept was even more evident.
"For example, the ability of the Marines and the Army and the Air Force to all know something about the same target was no longer a question of whose sensor it was, because they all had the same data," Stenbit explained. "So the good news is we were free in space and able, with the same information, to attack from the north, the south, the east and the west. It was very dynamic, and the Iraqis suffered from that. We were coming at them from all directions, and that's not a good place to be. If you stood still you were dead, and if you moved you were dead."
Stenbit said the goal now is to get from Smart Push to what he calls Smart Pull the ability to give warfighters the freedom not to be locked into either time or space, so they can obtain the information they need at the moment they need it, regardless of where they are.
And that's where the concept of NCW comes into play.
Stenbit said it involves moving from the broadcast TV paradigm to the paradigm of the Internet.
"Today, if you want all the information, you need you have to carry around 10 satellite dishes and a thousand people to pull it all together," Stenbit said. "What we have to do is go to the paradigm of the Internet. If you do that, you erase both the barriers of time and space."
He said that this would allow warfighters on the battlefield to have the information they need, when they need it, and the ability to tailor the information to their own needs, instead of relying on command and control staffs to feed them the information.
This, he said, is heart and soul of NCW.
So how does the Defense Department get there?
Stenbit said the primary barrier to achieving the Internet paradigm is bandwidth.
"We have to have an infrastructure of communications which has enough bandwidth in it to allow, for instance, three people to pull the same data at the same time because if you're going to Smart Pull, you need more communications or it won't work," Stenbit explained. "Then you need to put the data and applications on the network not in a way that's pre-aligned against a task, but much more openly, so that it's more like the Internet."
And indeed, Stenbit said DoD is moving forward to begin building just such an infrastructure.
He said by the end of next year, DoD plans to build a base network connecting 100 locations throughout the world, involving mostly major headquarters, intelligence centers and some support organizations.
"If you can get the same data to a warfighter, but it's the answer instead of a problem they have to solve -- man is that a good deal," Stenbit said. "It's a great and exciting time, and we're making real progress."