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Defense Network Concepts Have a Dynamic History

August 2010
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

Many of today’s original ideas about a global command and control system can be traced to Vice Adm. Jerry Tuttle, USN (Ret.), who served as director, Space and Electronic Warfare, from 1989 until his retirement in 1994. Faced with the need to restructure the Naval Telecommunications System to handle dramatically increased message traffic, Tuttle could have proposed buying bigger pipes. Instead, he created the Copernicus concept for evolving the Navy’s networks. His immediate objective was to restructure the Naval Telecommunications System and then to extend it to other parts of the Navy as well as to other military departments. Copernicus concentrated on the Navy’s immediate needs for increased bandwidth and for integrated communications.

Copernicus was not executed when the Navy decided to outsource the largest single share of its network operations to a contractor. Instead of open interoperability and easy information flows, the Navy received a closed and proprietary network with limited functionality. Meanwhile Navy networks, data centers and dependencies kept proliferating to the current count of over 100 networks and a large number of data centers.

In September 1992 Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Atwood issued Defense Management Decision Memorandum (DMRD) 918. Its purpose was to achieve major cost reductions in information technology spending, which included the consolidation of networks into a centrally managed Defense Information Infrastructure (DII).

Almost all of the DMRD funding was applied to data center consolidation in order to create a small number of megacenters. In the period during which the Defense Information Systems Agency was engaged in consolidations there were dramatic cost reductions in server computing, which resulted in the creation of hundreds of new computing facilities throughout the Defense Department. Ultimately DMRD 918 made hardly any impact on enterprise-level communications. While megacenters were built, the military services responded by acquiring a large number of additional networks to support distributed computing.

The foremost exponent for migrating from a computing-centric to a network-centric approach was Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, USN. His concepts of network-centric warfare were articulated in a widely circulated paper in 1998. This led to the formulation of the “power to the edge” systems architecture. In this concept, networks made it possible for dispersed military units to acquire information as needed instead of central agencies anticipating what could be useful. After October 2001, Cebrowski became the director of the Office of Force Transformation, reporting directly to the secretary of Defense. Further work on advancing network centricity had to take a back seat. Though attempts were made to implement applications based on the “edge” concepts, none of the major department investments followed this approach.

John Stenbit served as the chief computer executive in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2004. He concentrated on net-centric warfare and operations that offered plenty of trusted bandwidth. The underlying concept was to replace the Defense Department’s “smart push” regime with a new “smart pull” paradigm in which warfighters would be able, to retrieve whatever was needed to complete their missions. The vehicle to accomplish this goal was the Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE) that would eliminate bandwidth constraints. The architecture for the net-centricity mission was then assigned to DISA as the Net-Centric Enterprise Services and Net-Enabled Command Capability programs, which mostly closed down in 2009. Although considerable funds were expended to acquire long-haul circuits as well as to offer a wide range of collaboration applications, the military services never accepted these programs as a unifying design.

Paul A. Strassmann is Distinguished Professor at the GeorgeMasonUniversity and former Director of Defense Information, Office of the Secretary of Defense.