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Engineering Network-Centric Warfare

August 2007
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 
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.
Small changes making a big difference in moving U.S. Army forward.

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, USA, project manager, Battle Command, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, says three hurdles have stood in the way of quickly integrating stovepiped systems. As in many organizations, the cultural changes that must occur to make capabilities fully effective need to be addressed, and this is not an easy task. As all of the services have found, command leaders who purchase new products independently create small yet mighty stovepipes. While these systems solve a problem at individual sites, many cannot interact with the larger infrastructure, causing systemwide problems.

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 Baghdad. Following that, we had a change of leadership in the Army, and Gen. [Peter J.] Schoomaker came in as the chief of staff for the Army. He had a number of focus areas and one of them was the network, and under the network were the battle command applications.

“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 CircuitCity and shop around for needed capabilities.

“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.
The Army now is building on the initial capability, and the newest version of ABCS will feature the Data Distribution Service (DDS), the next step of the publish-and-subscribe service. “What DDS will allow you to do is publish and subscribe but also tag data across echelons. It’s the beginnings of the military equivalent of Google. Users will be able to discover key words. They won’t have to decide in advance what data they want. Instead, they’ll be able to go on and find these advertisements that have been sent out about data and say, ‘Yep, I want some of that. Give me some of that,’” the colonel explains.

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 U.S. and coalition partners to continue using the network to share information. The Army is working on a number of initiatives to secure its network starting with defining the standards and processes. The Army Gold Master program, for example, defines a core software set that the service is buying with enterprise licenses; it includes a security model. The active directory security and addressing model from the Army Network Enterprise Command and Chief Information Officer/G-6 are going into the tactical systems and the core server infrastructure from the joint perspective. “The result of that will be—God willin’ and the creek don’t rise and we do our job right—you’ll see a continuum. Instead of having a tactical system and the enterprise with huge gaps between them, it will be the same processes, the same login, the same procedures and the same user names and passwords all the way through. That’s what we’re doing now. We’re implementing that in Iraq today, and we will continue to grow that to go into the greater Army over time,” the colonel explains.

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.

Web Resources
Communications–Electronics Command: www.monmouth.army.mil/CELCMC
Army Battle Command System: www.peostri.army.mil/PRODUCTS/ABCS
Battle Command Laboratory: www.sec.army.mil/secweb/facilities_labs/battle_command_lab.html