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Aircraft Company Shifts Direction

October 2002
By Michael A. Robinson

A retired Air Force general plays a critical role in a commercial network-centric approach.

In warfare, as in chess, victory often depends on the ability to foresee the opponent’s next move. So, it seems more than a little appropriate that Lt. Gen. Carl G. O’Berry, USAF (Ret.), a chess enthusiast, is now vice president of a company that is helping the United States develop an integrated battlespace designed to redefine modern warfare.

Actually, Gen. O’Berry does not have much time for chess these days. He is busy playing host to thousands of visitors at the Boeing Integration Center, a $16 million, ultramodern simulation facility in Anaheim, California. The center has taken on greater significance in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and Boeing’s corporate diversification drive.

And when it comes to designing the battlespace of the future, Gen. O’Berry is hardly working in the realm of the theoretical. The unit he heads, the Strategic Architecture Group, also based in Anaheim, played a critical role in two recent contract wins that illustrate the Chicago-based Boeing’s aggressive move into military sales.

Last June, Boeing won the prime contract on the U.S. Army’s Joint Tactical Radio System, which will create a new generation of radios intended to improve communications dramatically for land, sea and air forces (SIGNAL, August, page 47). The contract is potentially worth $2 billion, and defense analysts say that follow-up sales could triple the value of the initial contract.

Last March, Boeing won a $4 billion role as prime contractor on the concept and technology development phase of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, a network of new weapons, communication systems, and intelligence-gathering sensors that U.S. Defense Department officials say will one day revolutionize the way the Army engages the enemy. The total value could rise to about $10 billion during deployment over the next decade.

“We astounded a lot of people outside of Boeing,” Gen. O’Berry says, echoing comments from Wall Street and military analysts alike. “The Army has not been our traditional customer, and those contracts were based on a global system of systems. That means we are resonating on the right frequency in terms of money and the military.”

Gen. O’Berry indicates that, in the battlespace of the very near future, military leaders will obtain information on troop deployments, weapons locations, communications facilities, weather, hazards, missiles, airplanes, tanks, ships and submarines essentially in real time that will give them a complete global picture of an unfolding conflict. A new network-centric approach means data will be flowing in from thousands of information nodes located on land, at sea, in the air and in space that will give commanders photographic, video and audio information for a complete picture of the battlefield in what might be viewed as a three-dimensional chess board.

On a limited scale, the concept of an integrated battlespace was a factor in the invasion of Afghanistan when the commander of the U.S. forces, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, USA, surveyed the information from headquarters at U.S. Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Because of advances in high-speed communications, Gen. Franks says he received all the information he needed to make critical decisions instantaneously.

Gen. O’Berry even ventures beyond the integrated battlespace to describe the impact of network-centric operations. He says the same systematic approach also could be applied to managing the nation’s air traffic, protecting U.S. borders from illegal immigration and fighting terrorism.

“Network-centric operations are needed everywhere, not just in the military,” he explains. “A lot of civil agencies need to be able to share information on demand in a way that cuts across a lot of different operations.”

Gen. O’Berry finds himself not only on the leading edge of modern warfare, but also playing a critical role in the transformation of Boeing from a company dependent on commercial aircraft sales to one that wins major defense contracts and sells information technology services.

Indeed, Boeing is in the midst of a startling transformation that saw the company move its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago and sharply reduce its dependence on sales of jetliners. It is all part of the 20-year vision that the company’s Chief Executive Officer Philip M. Condit unveiled in 1996. Late that year, Boeing merged with Rockwell’s aerospace and defense units, and the Rockwell units were renamed Boeing North American. The next year, Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas Corporation. Those and other moves are part of Condit’s decision to develop a portfolio of businesses that can, as he likes to say, “connect and protect” the world.

Last July, Boeing announced a merger of its space and communications business with its military manufacturing unit to form a single division roughly equal to its commercial aviation business with approximately $23 billion in revenue. The move not only compensates for decreasing demand in the satellite industry but also will help Boeing better compete for a wide range of military and other contracts through greater efficiencies. Renamed Integrated Defense Systems, the group is based in St. Louis and had 78,600 employees worldwide when the units were integrated.

For his part, Gen. O’Berry says he threw himself into development of the Boeing Integration Center (BIC) after being named vice president of the Government Information and Communications Systems section in April 2000. He was named vice president,  Strategic Architecture Group, in June 2001, putting him in charge of a smaller unit but one that is having a much broader impact on Boeing’s operations. The BIC is at the heart of Gen. O’Berry’s operation.

“The project was in the preliminary design when I got here,” Gen. O’Berry recalls. “I sort of held it up for a few weeks and went through an examination of what had been done and where we needed to go. I probably drove the engineers a little crazy because I made some substantial design changes. I was very much personally involved, and I think it is safe to say I had some influence over it.”

The result is an 11,000-square-foot modeling and simulation center, which opened in August 2000, that supports global architecture and system-of-systems design and development work. Gen. O’Berry says the BIC uses different computational systems, including Silicon Graphics computers for visualization and simulation, adding that the software has several million lines of code and is similar to the software being installed on the Apache attack helicopter.

The facility can rapidly model and demonstrate battle management command, control, communications, computers and intelligence solutions using real systems and software; design, develop and analyze integration schemes; certify architectural consistency of systems; evaluate new technologies and products; and above all, demonstrate increased mission effectiveness.

Because network-centric operations are now a major priority, Boeing officials say the BIC is the cornerstone of the company’s strategic transformation that will change how the company and its customers meet rapidly emerging requirements. Boeing officials want to ensure that all the company’s platforms are interoperable and designed as network ready to provide information superiority not just for modern warfare but also for such civilian needs as air traffic control and surveillance against illegal immigration.

Located in an obscure industrial complex and protected by triple security doors, the sophisticated proving ground for network-centric operations also is consistent with the U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Vision 2020. Key features include worldwide connectivity, bandwidth on demand, secure breakout rooms and a demonstration/briefing theater with three 6-foot video displays, a surround-sound system and a state-of-the-art multimedia capability. The BIC is designed to interact with Boeing laboratories in St. Louis and Seattle as well as with other designated government and commercial simulation centers.

So far, the center is a hit. Some 4,900 people visited the BIC in 2001, and there have been 2,700 visitors in the first seven months of 2002. Much of the attention came in the wake of the terrorist attacks when military and other government officials realized the need for increasingly sophisticated information gathering techniques to see a complex scenario unfolding as a strategic whole rather than bits and pieces of oftentimes confusing and conflicting information.

Gen. O’Berry is careful not to define how a network-centric operation could be used for surveillance against terrorism. He does say, however, that information nodes could be strategically placed throughout the United States, such as inside jetliners and at airports or strategic landmarks, and linked to sensors in the air, sea and space to relay information to a command center.

Although the technology is headed that way and it would provide the nation with unparalleled monitoring capabilities, Gen. O’Berry understands enough about the politics behind such moves to know they could face substantial civilian opposition. It is easy to conjure up images of Big Brother unnecessarily spying on innocent citizens when it is an abstract threat, he says.

“There are a lot of people out there who just shudder at the thought of a lot of surveillance,” Gen. O’Berry explains. “But those same people would be willing to give up some privacy if their lives were at stake.”

And if anyone knows the ins and outs of network-centric operations, it is Gen. O’Berry, who has lived through every major stage of technological advance since the Cold War. Before his military retirement in 1995, Gen. O’Berry served as deputy chief of staff, command, control, communications and computers, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. He was responsible for operational policy and high-level management of approximately $16 billion in command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems, including formulation of the Air Force’s communications and computer doctrine, policies and plans.

Before joining Boeing, Gen. O’Berry spent three years with Motorola Space and Systems Technology Group where he was vice president and director of planning and information technology. He jokes that his tenure at Boeing is the second time that “retirement didn’t stick.”

“I was not burning with desire to go back to work unless I felt like it was something really important, not just from a business perspective but from a national security perspective as well,” Gen. O’Berry states. “I really get tremendous satisfaction out of doing what I am doing here for Boeing and the nation. I think it is very important.”