Engineering Network-Centric Warfare
Small changes making a big difference in moving U.S. Army forward.
U.S. Army tactical operations centers are one communications hub in current operations. The service is introducing integrated systems to ensure that stovepipes do not get in the way of mission effectiveness.
After several changes in course, the U.S. Army is back on track for modernization and digitization. World events and priority shifts compelled the service to reassess its trajectory to take better aim at these moving targets whose pace quickens with the introduction of each new technology. Although the sheer size of the force and scale of the job amplifies the challenges, Army leaders say the service is now on a flexible yet stable path that leads to successful network centricity in the long term.
Col. Harold Greene,
Another hurdle to achieving integration quickly is the sheer size of the Army organization. “The Army’s a huge endeavor, and even when you come up with an improvement that will move you toward integration, it takes a significant amount of time to propagate that across the Army,” Col. Greene says. The service is putting several initiatives and capabilities into place right now that support a more integrated system over single-purpose functional systems aligned along one of the Army’s functional areas.
The third challenge is fielding equipment while troops are rotating into the theater of operations. Moving a capability from concept to development to testing to ready for the force takes time, and sometimes it can take several years before certain technologies will be used across the Army. “You could do this in the lab on an individual basis, but now you’re talking about doing it on the scale of a half a million active force plus 300,000 or 400,000 in the Reserve components. That’s a huge endeavor,” the colonel notes.
In addition to culture, size and operational tempo, factors that have slowed the integration progress include world events and changes in leadership. Prior to September 11, 2001, the Army was in what Col. Greene calls an operational pause, a time it was using to modernize. The focus was on digitizing only the 3rd U.S. Corps. Functional systems were being fielded in some units; however, besides the 3rd U.S. Corps, no other entire unit would be digitized. The plan was to test and evaluate the technology to ensure that it was as close to flawless as possible before it was fully introduced with the Future Combat Systems rollout around 2010.
“Then 9-11 happened and OIF [operation Iraqi Freedom] happened, and we cobbled together a number of stovepipe systems to support the movement to
“In the late summer, early fall of 2003, just as I was coming into this job, he wanted a ‘good enough solution,’ which meant get something that we could do rapidly that would provide a baseline capability to everybody, building on what we’ve already got and the lessons we’ve learned from the initial phases of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Get it through tests and all the wickets and then let’s give that to everybody and build on it, he said. That’s exactly what we did,” Col. Greene explains.
After a number of conferences to determine which capabilities could be delivered rapidly, the technology underwent technical testing in May 2004. The 4th Infantry Division conducted the operational test in March 2005, and the systems moved through all of the acquisition decision points. Finally, fielding standard baseline capabilities to everyone began, and the goal now is to deliver them into all of the Army brigade combat teams and divisions by the end of fiscal year 2007.
Because of the high operational tempo as well as funding cuts, a couple of the divisions did not receive as many of the new capabilities as Battle Command wanted to field. However, a new priority changed the focus: the Army’s move to modularity. This decision increased the number of brigade combat teams from 36 to 42, a number that will continue to grow as the Army expands. “But we are going to get done with the initial goal the middle of next fiscal year,” the colonel declares. “That’s going to give us a baseline across the Army, and we’ll go from there.”
And the Army isn’t the only vessel of change. Information technology is changing at least as fast, a fact of life that complicates the military’s efforts to ensure interoperability as the commercial market becomes one of the service’s largest competitors. In the world of command, control and information technology systems, a commander can go to a Web site, trade show or local
“My competition is not quite the same as that which you would see if you were in the hardware or the military purpose-built kit worlds where there aren’t a whole lot of competitors,” the colonel shares. “In the IT world, we have two choices: We can try to push off technology and push off what’s going on in the world, in which case we’ll become irrelevant, or we can embrace it. And frankly, we’re always going to be dealing with change.”
Col. Greene wants to leverage the benefits the commercial sector offers. The military may not be a big enough client to drive the research and development of new capabilities, but the colonel says the good news is that the services can obtain a lot of advanced technologies for very little money. “All we have to do is integrate commercial technology and figure out how to leverage it, because technology’s a moving target and it will never stop. So we have to figure out not should we go forward but how we go forward and do it smartly,” he relates.
Despite the changes in priorities, plans and technology, the Army has made significant strides toward network centricity. For example, the Army Battle Command System (ABCS) is one of the “good enough” solutions that Gen. Schoomaker called for and was put into place, first as a publish-and-subscribe service that allows troops to share information between one person and many people in a command post. However, the initial fielding did not enable this type of data exchange across echelons; at this level, data was still moving between echelons in the functional systems.
|Communications vehicles and the equipment inside them being used in Iraq and Afghanistan must be ruggedized to withstand sandstorms.|
This is not the only improvement in capabilities the service has introduced to the troops. While developing its migration to the future plan, the Army discovered that each unit did not have its own e-mail, Web portal or basic core infrastructure. Although active units had these capabilities, National Guard and Reserve units did not. In addition, even in units that had this set up, it was not configured uniformly across the service. As a result, whenever Battle Command installed a system, the command faced different challenges.
To address this patchwork of systems, Battle Command has been fielding a core server stack for the last couple of troop rotations. It provides the same capability to every unit and essentially gives warfighters a dependable core infrastructure. Included in this core server stack are a common database and a Web portal that is based on Microsoft Sharepoint. As a result, every brigade or division has a portal that can be used to share information.
“More significant than anything is that we’re fielding that common core capability to everybody. What we’ve done up until now has been to field capabilities to the maneuver brigades, and they have that core infrastructure they can operate on. We’ve fielded the divisions in the active force. Now we’re making the next transition, which is to begin fielding that common infrastructure to the nondivisional brigades that are out there in the Army National Guard and the Reserve components,” Col. Greene relates.
Super connectivity requires super security, but the key is to find the best way to keep adversaries out while allowing
To ensure that network-centric operations can continue even after an attack, the service will actually reverse some of the processes it has today. For instance, data and applications currently reside on local servers but are backed up on enterprise systems. In the future, the enterprise will become the primary source for applications and data, but they will be backed up on local equipment. Time-critical data will remain on local systems; data updated only once or twice a day can continue to be situated away from the area of operations.
Col. Greene is particularly proud of the large initiatives that are bringing the Army into the network-centric arena. Future Combat Systems, Network-Enabled Command Capability, LandWarNet and the Distributed Common Ground System–Army are all important to the long-term success of network centricity, he says. “People have got to deal with the idea that they’re going to be dependent on others and you can’t bring it all yourself. If you don’t work with each other, you end up duplicating the work of others. You never get to net centric because inevitably you will develop A and they’ll develop A-prime. A and A-prime sort of deliver the same capability but not exactly. They look a little bit different so the tactics, techniques and procedures are different, and it’s just harder than hell. You’ve got to take a broader view,” he states. Getting systems to work together or creating workarounds has, without a doubt, been the greatest challenge, he adds.
Industry can help fight this battle, but the military must set the course. “We need to motivate industry not to develop stovepiped solutions. Unfortunately, the way we’ve contracted in the past, we’ve done exactly that. That has to change. We’ve sent contractors functional systems with functional requirements and we wondered why the industry guys concentrated on providing functional solutions instead of enterprise solutions,” the colonel says. To address this problem, the military has started soliciting for system architecture and system engineering for the enterprise or for system-of-systems and then soliciting for the components separately.
On the commercial side, companies need to take advantage of the infrastructure that’s in place rather than trying to develop their own unique widget. “We need them to look at what’s being put out there from industry into the Defense Department enterprise and then leverage that,” Col. Greene states.
Communications–Electronics Command: www.monmouth.army.mil/CELCMC
Battle Command Laboratory: www.sec.army.mil/secweb/facilities_labs/battle_command_lab.html