Global Threats Demand Credible Response in Less Time

March 2006
By Dr. Jeff Grossman and Richard Akita

Today’s afloat command center relies heavily on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) technologies to maintain situational awareness. The requirement to share information is increasing and becoming more complicated as the U.S. armed forces are called upon to support not only military operations but also humanitarian efforts.
New battlefield technologies see use in waging both war and peace.

The complexity of the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance environment has increased significantly during the diverse operations the U.S. military has supported in recent years. From the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq to the devastation in the Gulf Coast region, the ability to share information has been instrumental in saving lives and carrying out effective operations. However, the fast tempo of activity within such a short period of time has brought to light the challenges that still exist in sharing data among organizations.

The continued introduction of information technology—today and on the horizon—is aimed at addressing the same challenges that have defined warfighting superiority throughout the ages—making better decisions faster and with fewer people in uncertain situations where the ramifications of poor decisions can be catastrophic. No matter how far technology advances, in the end it will be up to the individual often working as part of a team to understand the meaning of information and to determine the best possible course of action given the potential grave consequences associated with military actions.

These challenges are more difficult than ever in light of the growing number of varied threats that can occur, potentially simultaneously. Threats are now more global in nature, they can move and change with increasing speed, and less and less time is allowed before a credible response must be fully underway. Moreover, the military is being given increasing responsibility for a variety of new or nontraditional missions, including humanitarian assistance and maritime domain awareness in support of homeland defense. These demands will require the armed forces to create new partnerships and new capabilities never imagined for fighting forces.

In addition, there are far-reaching and often surprising implications when massive amounts of information are available and when information can be distributed worldwide nearly instantly. In practice, it may be difficult to make sense out of the glut; there are more needles but many more haystacks as well. The definitions of the battle and the battlespace have been expanding to encompass a greater breadth of meaning and scope of volume. An adversary can strike in many different domains, anywhere and any time.

One strategy being developed for achieving omniscient awareness at lower risk over the scope of the battlespace is the use of autonomous systems in every domain. Maintaining pervasive and persistent surveillance over this infinite range of possibilities effectively presents significant challenges for achieving better decisions faster with fewer people.

The military role has expanded to include humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well. For example, a naval commander may have to accomplish a diverse set of operational requirements during the same deployment. Expeditionary Strike Group 5’s experience in the December 2004 time frame is one example. After departing San Diego and pulling into Guam, the group had to make best speed to Sri Lanka to provide humanitarian assistance and support disaster relief after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Banda Aceh. The resultant tsunami devastated Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and many areas surrounding the Indian Ocean. The strike group’s support to operation Unified Assistance had significant operational reach with integrated air and surface craft operations.

The expeditionary group provided simultaneous support to Indonesian authorities, coalition partners such as Australia and organizations such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. Consequently, the ships’ and aircraft’s networks were stretched to network with those agencies. During that same period, Carrier Strike Group 9 with the USS Lincoln also supported the operation.

In a recent address to the Naval War College, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael G. Mullen, USN, pointed to the international relief efforts in Indonesia as an example of how the sea can be used to foster security and build lasting relationships. “We literally built a city at sea for no other purpose than to serve the needs of other people,” he said. “That was the Sea Base during those critical days, when the entire world rushed to reach suffering people in the midst of unthinkable devastation.” Sea power is “not just a force to wage war ... but a force to wage peace as well,” he added.

The U.S. Marine Corps response during the battle for Fallujah in Iraq is an example of a coordinated effort. During operation Al Fajr, the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) was a joint/combined organization built from the bottom up. The Marines surged the best capability set from within Iraq in support of the operation, achieving rapid concentration of forces for the battle. Commanders sought to maximize the synergistic effects of Marine Corps and U.S. Army ground forces by using armor, shock and firepower to penetrate enemy defenses, followed closely by Marines and integrated Iraqi forces to systematically defeat enemy fighters.

The Space and Naval Warfare enterprise and its industry partners
are developing the U.S. Navy’s Composeable FORCEnet. Composeability uses open public distributed Web services, specifications and standards to help introduce new warfighting capabilities into the field faster.
Many of these joint units showed up as formations and were heading to their assembly areas and attack positions. Success was facilitated by common tactics, techniques and procedures and greater situational awareness from the introduction and use of new battlefield technologies. These technologies included Blue Force Tracking, thermal and laser imaging devices, precision targeting capability, command and control (C2) personal computers, the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System and other command control systems. I MEF also introduced Iraqi army units for the first time in the Al Anbar Province and operation Al Fajr; eight Iraqi Security Force (ISF) battalions were involved in the operation and set the stage for permanent ISF units to be based in Al Anbar Province.

The battle for Fallujah dealt a major blow to the insurgency in Iraq but particularly in the Al Anbar Province. It helped turn the tide on the insurgency and set the conditions for successful elections in Iraq. The civil affairs and MEF engineer groups already were conducting reconstruction activities and humanitarian assistance during the mid-phases of the operation. These efforts kicked into high gear during the process of reconstruction. Infrastructure was in a dilapidated state before operation Al Fajr; combat operations degraded the infrastructure even further. Units would conduct civil affairs as they cleared. Fighting could be raging on one block, while just a couple of blocks away humanitarian operations were in progress.

Technology also can assist in providing humanitarian aid within the United States. Only six months ago, the military supported disaster relief at home as Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and put New Orleans under several feet of water. Nearly all of the departments of the U.S. government marshaled their forces during the aftermath of the hurricane. Among the organizations involved in the relief effort were the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration, American Red Cross and the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Labor and Treasury.

It is clear from the responses of all of the federal agencies that they—and in particular the Defense Department—must provide substantial logistics support to move tons of water and food as well as medical services to people in disaster areas. Hurricane Katrina illustrated the necessity of inherent military C2 capability in the early stages of a catastrophic event.

Even as the military begins to develop technologies that discover useful information in distributed environments, frustration is increasing over the ability to gain access to and interact with information under the control of organizations beyond a single chain of command. One of the most significant challenges is dealing with differences in security, architectures, procedures, policies and the law. Networked knowledge workers in every field are discovering that the axiom “knowledge is power” applies as much to the desire to share knowledge as to the importance of accumulating it. Strong cultural barriers exist against sharing knowledge if it might diminish an individual’s job, importance or effectiveness.

However, several concepts and issues are emerging. The promise of network centricity is in the concept of reach-back where distributed or aggregated experts operating over the network enhance or even substitute for local expertise. This more effective use of subject matter expertise could have significant manpower savings implications. A tremendous amount of work remains to be done before the promises of reach-back can be realized. Issues such as information discovery, mediation, security, dissemination strategies and bandwidth constraints and new concepts of operations and associated business rules—as well as techniques and supporting technology for effective collaboration—must be better understood and resolved.

“Composeability,” currently instantiated as Composeable FORCEnet, is an emerging concept in the implementation of the U.S. Navy’s FORCEnet. It is borne out in efforts within the Space and Naval Warfare enterprise and its industry partners and is currently undergoing operational experimentation in a number of fleet commands. Composeability provides a new paradigm for the rapid instantiation of new warfighting capabilities out of Web-enabled information, Web services and Web tool components. Composeability is based on the utilization of open public distributed Web services, specifications and standards. These standards will enable users to plug and play—or, as warfighters, to plug and fight—with new capabilities, new organizations and new tactics on the fly that are inherently interoperable as the operational and tactical situation dictates. This approach is distinctly different from the current military model of achieving interoperability through large-scale integration by engineering a system of systems.

Advanced information technologies have not proven to be a panacea for the issues facing military commanders. During the last 10 years, warfighters have become more vocal about the fact that the most advanced technology cannot be a substitute for human intellect. For technology to enhance the user’s innate capabilities, technologists must develop a deep understanding of human perceptual and cognitive capabilities and must create new ways to design an optimal system to support users. Recognition has grown that poorly designed interfaces to complex systems can result in critical errors under combat conditions. They also can result in the inefficient use of expensive system capabilities, increased manning levels and high training costs.


Dr. Jeff Grossman is senior technology research associate, Command and Control Department, at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Systems Center–San Diego, and Richard Akita is the director of command, control, communications and intelligence business development–West Coast at SRA Incorporated, San Diego.

The role of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) in military operations will be the topic of discussion at the 2006 C4ISR conference, “From New Orleans to Baghdad: Addressing Emergent C4ISR Requirements—Making Better Decisions Faster with Fewer People.” The event is co-sponsored by AFCEA International’s San Diego Chapter and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Systems Center–San Diego. It takes place at the Four Point Sheraton Hotel and SPAWAR Systems Center, San Diego, April 24-27, 2006. Additional information is available at

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