Networking Bonanza Generates Accurate Battlespace Awareness

May 2000
By Clarence A. Robinson, Jr.

Robust collaborative warfighter planning boosts detection, targeting and mobility.

A single secure global information grid is emerging to greatly increase U.S. and allied combat power. This overarching system-of-systems approach recognizes that each unique platform, weapon system, computer, radio, piece of equipment and warrior is also part of a much greater network.

The power of a real-time, interconnected network is the basis for the commander’s ability to share a common operational picture. The joint task force commander can use the grid to collaboratively plan strikes, retarget weapons platforms while in flight, and work with a multitude of coalition partners. In network-centric operations, the timely exchange of information is the key to leveraging all available sensors and weapons systems to generate increased combat power.

The global information grid, or GIG, is designed to enhance warfighting prowess through vast increases in battlespace awareness. Interconnecting information systems not only improves the ability to employ weapons beyond line of sight but also enables using massed effects instead of massed forces and reduces decision cycles, according to Lt. Gen. John L. Woodward, Jr., USAF. He is the Joint Staff’s former director for command, control, communications and computer (C4) systems, the J-6. Gen. Woodward has been nominated to succeed Lt. Gen. William J. Donahue, USAF, as director, communications and information, Headquarters U.S. Air Force; and commander, Air Force Communications and Information Center, Washington, D.C.

The J-6 is also the Joint Staff coordinating authority for information superiority as it relates to Joint Vision 2010, which describes warfare in the information age. This concept articulates a future where information superiority is fundamental to warfighting. The J-6 focuses on the delivery of assured, protected connectivity to enhance combat competence.

“Deploying the GIG is a strategic—not a tactical—decision,” Gen. Woodward emphasizes. The grid “is not a C4 decision; it is a decision about increasing combat power.” The joint community is making tangible progress toward treating the network like a weapon system, and abundant examples of this transformation in military thinking exist, Gen. Woodward adds in a SIGNAL interview.

Gen. Woodward believes that information systems are generally considered to be much more than combat service support functions. And, while not everyone agrees, this notion helps in competing for scarce development and acquisition funding. He adds that “Treating the GIG like a major weapon system has several significant implications for deployment and employment.

“We think of the GIG in the same way that most people think of the Internet—a single concept that describes something that is very complicated and constantly evolving,” the general explains.

He cites a Joint Staff campaign plan that spotlights interoperability. In the C4 area, the objective is to have systems designed “so that warfighters can communicate and share information using the power of the network,” Gen. Woodward asserts. “We are very much into network centricity as an aspect of daily life, moving information around to get the job done.” The campaign plan is designed around a vision—a template—that pulls together various information and sensor elements.

“In addition, the requirements generation system as a whole is being strengthened through a rewrite of the Joint Staff instruction that governs this process. It specifically requires C4 interoperability in future systems be demonstrated at key acquisition milestones,” the general illustrates. “This will improve the link between systems acquisition and end-to-end interoperability in an operational context.”

It is the vision of the J-6 to pull together all of the components necessary to operate an information network on a global scale to reap the benefits for the warfighter wherever that might be—the right data in the right format at the right place at precisely the proper moment. The GIG concept provides maximum possible strength regardless of the circumstances, the general claims. Information is viewed as “very much a part of the fight. We see this as tying the weapons platforms and the people associated with them together for connectivity, whether these systems are wireless, fiber, satellite communications or copper wire,” he stresses.

After each of the services conducts GIG experiments, subsequent joint experiments are expected to lead toward development of joint warfighting concepts. “These concepts will be different than anything we have seen before. We always work with allies today, so we must also conduct coalition operations to find ways that will work for all of the forces involved.” Coalition operations also include the release of information to allies. The timing, authority and policies for release are areas that still need to be addressed, the general recounts.

As the GIG takes shape and various elements are added, an information dissemination management (IDM) initiative places a commander in chief, or CINC, in charge of dynamically allocating network bandwidth to meet specific theater needs, the general relates. Sponsored by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, an IDM advanced concept technology demonstration is underway by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

IDM capabilities were developed in the battlefield awareness and data dissemination advanced concept technology demonstration. This capability will allow commanders to pull information from multiple sources on demand, the J-6 states. The system also allows information sources to push critical information to specific warfighters as needed.

The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) in Hawaii is also involved in an IDM pilot program and in an important separate effort to provide a total picture of theater network availability in real time. It is anticipated that these efforts will later become integrated under the GIG’s umbrella.

The IDM bandwidth control mechanism is anticipated to be in place for use by all CINCs within two or three years. An IDM capstone document will be the foundation of a joint operational requirements document. The capstone process, which also is underway for the GIG, captures overarching requirements for mission areas such as space control, theater missile defense or national missile defense.

A limited IDM capability is already working with a 24-megabit-per-second bandwidth capability as part of the global broadcast system. The general observes that U.S. commanders have learned in recent worldwide operations, such as in the Balkans, that “there is never enough bandwidth to do the job. What we must do is prioritize and properly manage it. Today, we can’t deal with independent pieces of the spectrum like super, ultra or extremely high frequencies. We must deal with it in terms of a total network approach.”

A GIG-related theater C4 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) coordination center, which uses the TCCC acronym, is also being established at the Pacific Command. Associated techniques, tactics and procedures are being developed, Gen. Woodward explains. As a result of this activity, the CINCPAC has unprecedented visibility into theater networks.

The TCCC provides a readiness assessment based on specific metrics that enable the theater commander to give operational direction to service components and other operators of networks, systems and applications, Gen. Woodward says. He continues that this center optimizes the GIG for current operations. “The TCCC will provide health and status information concerning theater networks to DISA’s global network operations and security center (GNOSC) that monitors the Defense Department’s backbone communications networks.”

Only signal soldiers or communicators have been concerned with communications systems and networks. Now, everyone must become involved, Gen. Woodward asserts. Additionally, only the services saw their piece of the network; there was no CINC overview. With the network display, CINCs can prioritize, determine who gets bandwidth and determine how much each subordinate unit requires, using the network overview as a crucial element in the planning process.

Another aspect of network performance involves modeling and simulation. A network warfare simulation (NETWARS) initiative provides a modeling capability to assess the performance of the GIG. The Joint Staff-led NETWARS program was developed from a commercial network simulation tool called OPNET. NETWARS is being used today to model the effectiveness of operational plans using the current GIG. “Not only will we begin to assess the capability of our networks to support joint operations during the planning stage, but it will help us understand where and how to employ advanced technologies to expand and improve the GIG,” Gen. Woodward states.

NETWARS will help planners understand the extent of new capabilities such as the advanced wideband satellite system. The general continues, “We are soon to field, in June, the online modeling and simulation capability at a CINC-level center like the TCCC, which can be used for bandwidth throttling, predictability and analyses for investment and force structure deployment planning.”

In view of the growing bandwidth requirements, Gen. Woodward raises the subject of the loss of a third Milstar extremely high frequency (EHF) communications satellite during its launch. Although the impact is still being examined, the general characterized that event as “a pretty big loss.” As a result, the fourth Milstar launch, slated for October, will have added importance. This situation highlights the need to balance military and commercial satellite requirements.

Three military super high frequency (SHF) gap-filler spacecraft are scheduled for orbit using a commercial-like design to obtain maximum bandwidth and perhaps will include Ka-band transponders along with a global broadcast capability. The gap-filler satellites, with the first launch slated in 2004, will not have the protected features of the Milstar constellation because these spacecraft are more like commercial systems. However, they meet the objective of “leveraging the dollar bill as far as possible. These satellites will increase strategic capacity by a factor of three and tactical capacity by a factor of 15 to 20,” the general explains.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for communications is another program that has engendered J-6 enthusiasm. Gen. Woodward believes that a communications package, or equipment suite, being developed will be aboard UAVs regardless of the altitude at which they loiter. Then, an operational concept can be developed, and a capability can be put together rapidly. “The packages may be for more than communications relay and could be for ground-specific functions; there are a lot of opportunities,” he adds.

A new way of thinking is taking hold, the general maintains. “Space- and ground-communications segments must be dealt with together as a seamless end-to-end network. The GIG provides interconnected capabilities, processes and personnel. The network collects, processes, stores, disseminates and manages information on demand for warfighters and policy makers. The grid also supports the Defense Department, national security activities, intelligence community and various missions in peace and war.”

Gen. Woodward believes that commercial information management technology is lacking in industry and that much more development activity is necessary before it can be exploited as off-the-shelf technology. “Network management is accomplished today, but it requires a human in the loop at every level, and it is hard work.”

Exploiting the power of a network-centric force is what the general seeks—a force with the capability to dynamically target on demand, to network sensors regardless of platform, to direct shooters regardless of service or country, and to link decision makers regardless of location. “This is what the ongoing transformation of military capability is all about.

“As quickly as the technology evolves to allow us to prioritize and manage the flow of information over the network, we must adopt the means to optimize our systems,” Gen. Woodward asserts. “There must be enough capacity to support the way the warfighter wants to fight now and in the future.” He cites as a key lesson learned in the Balkans that today’s battlefield is information intensive. “Unmanned aerial vehicles, video teleconferencing and imagery require lots of bandwidth.

“Precision-guided munitions rely on global positioning data for accuracy. Dispersed units rely on secure voice and data for situational awareness and command and control. Our networks must be optimized to support all of these capabilities when needed,” Gen. Woodward confirms.

“Another key lesson learned was that our ability to manage the radio spectrum and the limitations of current tactical ground terminals directly impact the end-to-end network performance. During operation Allied Force, more than 44,000 radio frequencies were deconflicted, permitting the uninterrupted flow of information.

“Network performance and radio frequency spectrum use are inextricably linked. Over the past year, Congress has championed protection of the radio frequency spectrum that is so crucial to military operations,” Gen. Woodward clarifies. He adds that 8 megahertz of previously re-allocated spectrum has been returned for Defense Department use.

The Federal Communications Commission also “reassigned 50 megahertz to preserve contiguous bandwidth required by the Navy’s cooperative engagement capability, a program which provides networked sensor capability to shooters. These and similar initiatives saved hundreds of millions of dollars for the department and had a direct impact on our ability to employ and protect our fighting forces,” the general assures.

He insists that the units that operate, maintain and protect the networks must be organized as an integral part of the warfighting command structure “just as we do with other warfighting resources.” He calls for consolidating responsibility and operational control under a single warfighting commander. “This will place the authority for allocating essential, limited resources based on operational exigencies under a commander charged with the responsibility for the GIG.”

In discussing the various J-6 activities, the general continually returns to the importance of information assurance programs and the availability of spectrum for U.S. forces wherever they operate. Protecting and defending the GIG is a fundamental, mainstream military imperative, Gen. Woodward insists. “Our strategy for information assurance is one which employs multiple layers that we call defense in depth.” This strategy establishes a set of minimum capabilities required for each of four levels of defense: network, enclave, computing environment and infrastructure.

Information assurance tools are being made available to the CINCs within the network management system. Software tools are being incorporated into the joint deployable information infrastructure control system, or JDIICS. The tools are designed for deployment in the joint command and control center to protect the network.

Overall security capabilities include automated and verifiable access control of database and software applications as well as a departmentwide policy for virtual private-network configurations. This approach allows the Defense Department to keep pace with rapid technological advances while allowing for the integration of legacy equipment with existing capability, the general reports. Procedural changes are also underway to take advantage of the technology currently employed.

Gen. Woodward observes that the Defense Department is well on its way to organizing the GIG for combat operations. Assignment of the computer network defense mission to the commander in chief U.S. Space Command, or CINC Space, through a unified command plan is an important development.

This change gives the responsibility and authority to CINC Space for the protection and defense of the GIG. Assured operations and mission success will result from this change, Gen. Woodward warrants. The action arm of CINC Space is the joint task force-computer network defense (JTF-CND) collocated with DISA’s GNOSC, which displays the operational picture of critical worldwide Defense Department networks.

The collocation of these two operations “results in tremendous synergy and synchronization,” the general declares. “One of the success stories of placing the computer network defense mission under a CINC is in the operational readiness conditions that exist as they apply to far-flung networks. Global information conditions, or INFOCONs, are set by CINC Space based on the level of threat to the GIG. Each INFOCON level requires specific actions by personnel at every camp, post, base, station and deployed unit. This standardizes protection of this resource, a resource that is only as strong as its weakest link,” Gen. Woodward concludes.

Increasingly, it is a secure, reliable network that makes an effective warfighting force. As a result, securing the network is not just about securing information. It is about enabling assured operations and mission success.