FORCEnet: The Navy Has It Right

December 2004
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

The U.S. Navy has reached a significant milestone in its drive for transformation. For the first time in my experience, the Navy has stated that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) stovepipes are detrimental to successful warfighting. Considering them as two separate entities is the road map to failure.

The requirement always has been to collect, process and distribute intelligence. Keeping the collection and processing part separate from the distribution element—as we have for 229 years—has stalled progress for building a true 21st century force. This archaic approach does not even allow for accurately measuring the delay in getting information to the user. To defeat this drawback, the Navy is combining ISR and C4I technology to create a continuum. The architecture is no longer for two separate disciplines.

This is where FORCEnet comes in. In creating this continuum, FORCEnet is giving the Navy a complete end-to-end process for successfully engaging enemy targets and bringing a conflict to a quick and favorable conclusion.

One of my favorite leadership sayings is, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.” Now, everything that is happening—from organization, policy, cultural change and emphasis on technology—shows that the secretary of the Navy, the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps are doing what is necessary to make FORCEnet a reality.

For some time, the focal point of any FORCEnet discussion was that policy change and cultural change were lagging technology. This charge was applied to many transformational concepts, not just FORCEnet. However, that led some people to believe that the technological issues in a sensor-to-shooter ISR/C4I continuum would be solved easily. It is refreshing to hear people at Navy Network Warfare Command, N-6/7; the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; and the systems commands all discussing the technology challenges and the role that industry will play in this overall architecture.

I suggest two major assumptions that should be considered as operational facts in defining FORCEnet. First, one of the things that I don’t hear as often as I should is the assumption that our Sailors and Marines are brilliant—that they understand the power of the network, and they know that we do not need stovepipes of the past to provide the FORCEnet architecture of the future.

For too long, a traditional assumption was that each Sailor and Marine would have to be taken by the hand and led down the path to a new architecture. But, the Navy should make the opposite assumption. It should take as a matter of fact that our Sailors and Marines “get it,” and they will make FORCEnet work to its best capabilities.

Second, the other FORCEnet assumption focuses on less capability rather than more. One FORCEnet challenge that is unique to the sea service is a continuing reliance on bandwidth from on-orbit assets. FORCEnet, in comparison to the sensor-to-shooter architectures that are being developed by the other services, will be a bandwidth-constrained system of systems.

Much of this problem is physical—the Navy relies on ships and submarines as its primary platforms operating over great distances. It would be an enormous error to assume that bandwidth will be available to satisfy FORCEnet requirements. For maritime forces, the assumption must be that bandwidth will be in short supply.

There are two ways to address this reliance on satellite connectivity. FORCEnet should lead the Navy to vote both for increased on-orbit bandwidth capabilities and for increased processing that allows for more efficient use of available bandwidth. More satellite bandwidth will help alleviate the problem as it is now foreseen. However, even the best plans for communications assets cannot always accommodate exponentially increasing demands of unforeseen new capabilities. More efficient exploitation of existing bandwidth assets can provide a near-term solution with far-term benefits.

These two assumptions are key to ensuring FORCEnet’s success in the Navy. And, the importance of that success may extend far beyond warfighting.

I am sure that FORCEnet will give the Navy the means to help bring about a swift and successful end to a conflict. Additionally, FORCEnet offers the potential of serving this nation in another way. FORCEnet may actually help prevent a conflict. The ISR/C4I continuum could provide the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information necessary for stopping a war at phase zero—before it actually starts.

And, this same approach can be applied to a war’s aftermath. With FORCEnet, we will be able to develop standards for the ways to use its technology—the same technology that wins the conflict phase of a war—to be part of the transition out of war and into peace.

Both of these elements have high value on the international stage. The power of the same network that can win the hostility phase of a war also can secure a peaceful aftermath or even prevent a war. The Navy is showing leadership in its advocacy of this continuum called FORCEnet, and its actions speak louder than words.