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The March of Technology; the March of Freedom

September 2003
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

The recent Iraq War has demonstrated the effectiveness of network-centric warfare as a core military doctrine. Though vastly outnumbered by Saddam Hussein’s armies, U.S.-led allied forces swept through Iraq and toppled his brutal regime in three weeks. The melding of information technologies with new operational doctrines represents a revolution in military affairs that promises to change defense and security establishments around the globe—especially among NATO allies upon which rests the security of the Free World.

The past 100 years have witnessed three such revolutions. The first came in World War I with the advent of the tank. This armored vehicle effectively ended the morass of trench warfare and changed the internal combustion engine vehicle from a method of transport to a warfighting weapon that both supported—and received support from—infantry forces. For more than eight decades, the tank remained the cornerstone of ground forces.

The second revolution occurred in World War II with the introduction of air power. In just 21 years, the aircraft completed a transition from being a reconnaissance tool and an esoteric fighting machine in the first world war to being a weapon system that altered warfighting on land, sea and air.

In doing so, it changed the face and the pace of war. As aptly demonstrated by Nazi blitzkriegs, land forces would employ air power to strike rapidly and decisively deep into enemy territory. Major naval battles, once the exclusive purview of heavily armed and armored dreadnoughts, were decided by air power in battles where opposing fleets never even laid eyes on each other. And, the bloodiest war in human history ended when an air attack with atomic weaponry broke the will of a stubborn adversary determined to fight to the death.

Now we are in the midst of the third revolution. The rapid and overwhelming success of the Iraq War has laid to rest any dissent about this being the era of network-centric warfare. The advances in information technology and its applications have revolutionized warfare beyond even planners’ expectations. Any military force expecting to prevail in a future conflict must adopt these technologies and capabilities.

This basic fact is especially true for NATO members.

A successful allied military operation requires interoperability. NATO consistently has strived for standardization among national armaments, and it has achieved considerable success in this arena. However, this task was made easier because countries tended to employ the same types of weapon systems—tanks, assault rifles, aircraft and the like. These types of hardware were a part of the force; information underlies the new force.

Standardization can only go so far for ensuring interoperability in network-centric warfare. Countries may build their forces around different types of information systems, especially with cost being a prime factor in developing a military network architecture. Not all nations are equipped with the same types of information technologies throughout their fighting forces. These diverse systems must work together in the network-centric arena, or the effect would be as detrimental as if each individual infantryman in World War I spoke a different language, or if each individual tank in World War II used unique ammunition.

The commercial sector has been one of the greatest enablers of information technology standardization through the use of common operating systems. This is a good foundation on which to build. The challenge facing NATO is to build network-centric “capability interoperability” among its member nations.

This is where AFCEA International can, and does, play an important role. AFCEA was born internationally with NATO, and the association continues to increase its international footprint via some of the alliance’s newest and incoming members. The association is holding some of its major expositions in these new countries, and not just to show the flag in diverse locations. These new nations are important to the continued vitality of NATO, and the steps they take now may hold the key to the continued success of that 55-year-old security alliance.

The willingness of these new NATO members to participate in its security activities seems boundless. Translating this enthusiasm into participation will take more than determination, however. In any alliance, interoperability—both among different military services and among national forces—is the key to a successful coalition. And, with network-centric warfare now the vanguard of the military future, interoperability is a requisite for success in the digitized battlespace.

A core role for AFCEA always has been to bring government and industry together. In the international arena, this becomes particularly important when nations have diverse requirements that must be met by the global commercial sector. Bringing solution sets to these emerging leaders across Europe may hold the key to their attaining alliance interoperability.

The coalition that rid the world of Saddam Hussein has shown the way to a secure future. The existing and upcoming member nations of NATO are committed to working together to maintain freedom in Europe, Asia and North America. Now, if all of its members and industry work together, the most successful security alliance in history has an opportunity to develop a new type of security apparatus built around information technology.