Navy Advances Lay The Groundwork for Revolutionary Changes

December 2005
By Robert K. Ackerman
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An aviation boatswain’s mate 3rd class signals for launch sequence preparation on the flight deck of the USS Kitty Hawk. The way the U.S. Navy conducts combat operations will change significantly as new network-centric architectures open up innovative capabilities.
Major efforts such as FORCEnet are only the bow wave of a radical new infostructure.

Changes are afoot in the fleet as the U.S. Navy plans for greater versatility in force and execution. The Navy’s vital FORCEnet program, which is the baseline for the service’s infostructure, will alter Navy capabilities significantly. However, it is more than just an end in and of itself. As revolutionary as FORCEnet is to naval planning, it also represents an evolutionary phase that offers to lead to a complete revolution in warfighting amid seamless integration in the joint realm.

The Navy, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force are working to develop a joint networked environment. FORCEnet is at the heart of the Navy’s effort in that arena, and the Navy already is working to quantify and document the new ways of warfighting that will be empowered by FORCEnet. Many of these concepts of operations emerging from Sea Basing, Sea Strike and Sea Shield are still embryonic. Planners must assume that the network is in place, the other services are interoperating with their own contributions, and the culture and policy have adjusted to the new capabilities.

Capt. Robert M. Zalaskus, USN, is the N-6 to Vice Adm. James D. McArthur Jr., USN, commander of the Naval Network Warfare Command. The captain’s title is director of enterprise architecture, and his responsibilities cover three primary areas: concept, integration and development; architecture, which turns those concepts into relationships; and modernization planning that reconciles operational needs, budgets and phased timing.

Capt. Zalaskus explains that the Navy continues to follow the FORCEnet functional concept as it transforms into a 21st century force. Much of this transformation focuses on the Navy’s contribution to the Global Information Grid (GIG). At this point in the transformation, the Navy has “a set of well-behaved types of applications and systems that work pretty well together,” the captain offers.

However, ensuring that the next step will continue to deliver FORCEnet requires that the Navy measure the degree of integration. Many programs are being developed by experts well versed in FORCEnet disciplines, but their efforts must be integrated at various layers to ensure that information flows more seamlessly in the future, Capt. Zalaskus points out.

A key metric in this endeavor may be information in motion. The captain explains that information in motion suggests information at work, which in turn translates to capability. Applying this as a metric for success may help the Navy bring together the diverse capabilities under development. This is vital as it works toward the necessary standards, interfaces and processes that allow that information to flow more readily among those individual efforts, he offers.

And, this integration is not limited to just the Navy. The joint arena is becoming the defining aspect of military operations, and the Navy’s drive to internal interoperability also must encompass the other services as well. “The GIG is probably going to be one of those types of common focus points,” Capt. Zalaskus says.

Ironically, the future probably will see a decreased emphasis on concepts such as FORCEnet, ConstellationNet and LandWarNet in favor of a more centralized view such as GIG-N, GIG-AF and GIG-A, the captain offers. Such an approach would have all of the services working on a common infostructure to move information more readily and seamlessly.

Moving away from service-oriented architectures will give way to an approach known as services-oriented architecture, which would break down the complex functions that are done by today’s command and control systems. Beginning by determining each system’s fundamental activities, planners would look at making these functions modular so they can be reused by many applications and shared among many users.

All of the services are headed in that direction, Capt. Zalaskus notes, and the Navy is no exception. But, even that advanced architecture is not the end state. Further in the future lies event-driven architecture, which may represent the ultimate peak of a joint infostructure. In that environment, traditional actions of command and control will yield to radically new warfighting capabilities enabled by information across the battlespace.

“We are striving toward that, and the efforts of FORCEnet, ConstellationNet and LandWarNet are going to improve our efficiency,” Capt. Zalaskus states.

Part of the GIG effort includes connecting everyone as nodes on it, permitting commanders to make decisions faster than can adversaries and giving U.S. forces the initiative in a conflict. However, U.S. forces cannot count on 100-percent connectivity at all times, not because the military cannot guarantee a robust, reliable network, but because the future architecture must allow operators to reduce network connectivity as needed for tactical operations. Their reasons for reducing connectivity may range from emission controls to successful enemy network countermeasures. Whatever form the network assumes in the heat of battle, warfighters still must be able to use it to their advantage.

“Our operational warfighting can’t cease if the network becomes intermittent or goes down for a period of time,” the captain maintains. “Those technologies that underlie the architectural support—such as message brokers and third-party transport mechanisms—allow the two ends of the network to work somewhat independently. The network itself will serve as an independent agent to move information around and deliver it reliably and effectively. And, we need that independence [in order] to be able to function with the freedom that warfighting requires,” he emphasizes.

The captain continues that it is easier to acknowledge that the Navy must be able to operate in an intermittent connectivity environment than it is to insist on having highly reliable connectivity. Ships today go to sea with affordable connectivity, but many times their courses may prevent them from being fully connected. “We may argue that it is unacceptable and we must fix it—and we will look for ways to mitigate those unintended times of no connectivity because of bad design or fiscal limitations—but in fact we have forced ourselves to live with that,” he observes. “Instead of it being a work-around, the question is can we build our structures, operations and networks to be able to re-connect without additional actions?” A self-healing network would allow force segments to rejoin the network in a simple way, for example.

However, getting to this event-driven architecture will require establishing the supporting infrastructure necessary for enabling the network. Services must be designed to function in the asymmetric environment. For example, a user’s information request generated as a message would enter the network, where a network broker would distribute it to the appropriate party for action. When the requested information becomes available, it would be sent back to the original sender. In an event-driven architecture, those two parties would not need to remain connected directly.

The next new ship in the fleet will be the littoral combat ship. The Navy is looking for advanced wireless technologies that could create a pervasive wireless environment from ashore to afloat.
“That is quite achievable, and we will refine that as we go through the next few years,” the captain posits. “We can’t afford to allow our services development to be like ‘the strong shall survive.’ We need more structure, we need discipline in the development so that dollars go the farthest in developing the services, and we must quickly negotiate who will be responsible for which services so that we don’t duplicate effort [among the military services].”

This infrastructure will evolve over time rather than appear as a revolutionary development, Capt. Zalaskus continues, adding that a methodical approach is necessary to reach the end state desired for that type of network. However, along the way more revolutionary changes in operations will emerge as a solid infostructure is developed to support the network-centric environment.

Revolutionary changes already are in the works through FORCEnet. The captain notes that the FORCEnet functional concept can be distilled into 15 capabilities. These capabilities become the basis of future acquisition and resourcing strategies, and these strategies can serve as the guideposts for building new systems.

Three aspects of FORCEnet stand out from the other 12 as truly revolutionary, according to Capt. Zalaskus. One is that future warfighting problems will be so complex that a collaborative environment will be necessary to solve them. So, networks must be designed to support collaboration more readily than is done currently.

“Today, a lot of decisions that might be labeled collaborative are made locally by the face-to-face staff who are responsible for decision support to their centralized leader,” the captain says. “But we’re talking about collaboration on a broader scale, where communities of interest are formed drawing upon either standing or ad-hoc communities, depending on the problem.”

Another revolutionary FORCEnet area is a new view of command and control. The captain explains that traditional accountability and responsibility will continue. However command and control as executed could be far different in the network-centric environment. As actionable information becomes pervasive and available down to the unit level, control no longer need be executed from a central point. A unit will have more autonomy to execute the commander’s intent. The network will provide the feedback, which will be the new version of control for the commander. If that commander sees that the original intent is not being executed or it requires an adjustment, then the commander will issue a new intent.

“That’s a culture change—that’s revolutionary,” Capt. Zalaskus declares. “It will increase the speed of command and contribute to success on the battlefield because we’re pushing more control on the local level.” The Marine Corps is supporting it, and the Navy views it as a revolutionary change supported by pervasive information.

The third revolutionary aspect is the idea of how information is shared—or even owned. Currently, decision making may involve having access to raw, unprocessed information. The future will see a much greater dependence on refined information, but some users still will want to have access to some raw data. That runs afoul of traditional intelligence community processes that focus on providing knowledge rather than raw data.

“Those [three] will be revolutionary changes that will evolve from an operational environment that benefits from having pervasive information,” Capt. Zalaskus offers. “Delivering FORCEnet is not about delivering a network. It is about delivering that environment and enabling those types of new ways of doing business to happen.”

When these revolutionary changes come to pass, their effects will be broad. “You will see a speed of decision increase from what you might be seeing today,” Capt. Zalaskus says. For example, basic decisions on strike missions today are made at a central location. Even as information works it way down the chain to the battlefield, a single commander still exercises strike decisions. But, when FORCEnet achieves its goals, more of the decision making about when to strike will move closer to the tip of the spear.

“With the visibility of the operational picture, the authority and the understanding of the commander’s intent, you are going to see more of that decision making made in the cockpit,” he predicts. When a strike is immediately assessed to be incomplete, the warfighter may decide that all that is necessary is to conduct a restrike, instead of restarting the entire battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance preparation process.

“We are seeking to network more entities involved in combat than we have ever done before,” Capt. Zalaskus declares. When that connectivity can be brought into every land, sea and air asset, real-time information collected by those assets will enter a different realm. A maritime patrol aircraft, for example, could receive information from an undersea asset and in turn deliver a strike to a specific location faster than a submerged platform.

“When you can start aligning operational activities and the roles that people play with system functions and systems that we build through our acquisition process, then you can derive organizational structure—and new organizational structures that we don’t even have today,” the captain observes.

Industry will play a major role in enabling these capabilities. Web-based services are high on the wish list from industry, Capt. Zalaskus offers. These services include technologies that support the ability to discover. Extensible Markup Language (XML) looms large in the future. “Right now, XML is optimized for interoperability—and that’s all it’s optimized for,” the captain charges. “We need to understand that in a bandwidth-limited environment, asynchronous operations will need things like XML compression and ways to streamline the data that we are flowing over our precious RF [radio frequency] assets, so that we don’t end up completely suboptimizing the quantity of data that we can share because we optimize interoperability with bloated code.”

Wireless technologies, especially those that support the afloat structure, will be increasingly in demand. The Navy would like to press forward toward a goal of pervasive wireless from the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) to the afloat environment, he notes. Ad-hoc mobile networking and all of its underlying technologies also will be important in the future.

Technologies supporting the event-driven architecture will include message brokering and other schemes that allow asynchronous operations. And, above all, the Navy will need technologies that allow operators to monitor and defend the network.

“We are treating our networks today as weapon systems,” the captain warrants. “That means that we view quality assurance, rigor in maintenance, proficiency of watch standards and the certification of our operators just as we would a combat system. By viewing our networks and information systems as weapon systems, we take the approach that we must design them well and have the ability to protect them.”


Web Resources
Naval Network Warfare Command:
Chief of Naval Operations Guidance:


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