Vice Adm. James D. McArthur Jr., USN, Naval Network Warfare Command

December 2005
By Vice Adm. James D. McArthur Jr., USN, Commander, Naval Network Warfare Command

Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?

Joint and service concepts of network-centric operations continue to inspire leadership and are spawning an impressive array of technologies seeking to connect decision makers at all levels. FORCEnet, the naval component to network-centric operations and the U.S. Navy’s contribution to the Global Information Grid, is one of the concepts that articulates how maritime forces will support joint operations in an information-based environment. The FORCEnet Functional Concept, a capstone naval reference signed by the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, reinforces that networked forces will continue to require stealth, mobility and agility to counter increasingly capable adversaries. In balance with the impressive capabilities that will come from operations in a well-connected, pervasive information environment, such agility must also include the ability to cope with limited or no connectivity—whether as a result of conflict with the adversary or, in the case of emission control, specifically induced. While most of today’s research and development energy is properly focused on developing information availability, some of the most significant emerging technology may not be capabilities that connect all levels of the enterprise but ones that underlie the architectures supporting coherency of military operations in an intermittently connected, asynchronous environment.

For the U.S. Defense Department, web services and a service-oriented architecture (SOA) approach have evolved technically as the generally accepted way ahead in developing future applications and systems that will be adaptable to changing warfighting needs. This approach is moving us forward from a traditional, self-contained, application-centric environment characterized by tight dependence between all system functions toward a more loosely coupled environment in which thin applications consume functionality and data as services. This loose coupling enables applications to sustain their processes when connectivity is interrupted. Implementing an SOA involves either developing applications that use services or making applications available as services—or both. One of the main advantages of the SOA approach is the critical interoperability we invoke by building standards-based interfaces between components along with the ability to develop applications components rapidly. Examples of such services may include a function that converts one type of track data to another or the complex handling of overlay data on a geo-centric grid without having to redesign the basic application itself. Thus, the SOA is essentially an architectural style, governance and infrastructure that establishes a portfolio of services that can be discovered easily and reused by existing or new applications.

The SOA is moving forward in several initiatives including the Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems-led Open Architecture initiative; the Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence and U.S. Air Force-led Netcentric Enterprise Solutions for Interoperability; the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA)-led Net-Centric Enterprise Services; and the U.S. Joint Forces Command- and DISA-led Net-Centric Capabilities Pilot, in addition to efforts led by international industry in forums such as the Net-Centric Operations Industry Consortium and the World Wide Consortium for the Grid. The SOA is an appropriate path for FORCEnet as it supports interoperability, scalability and efficiency, but it only begins to fully support operations in an asynchronous environment. For that, we need to further decouple our “business” logic from the data transport functions.

Beyond the SOA, event-driven architecture (EDA) seeks to decouple components. This approach takes us beyond the middleware, messaging and broker technologies underlying the familiar publish and subscribe topologies to content-based event generation. The asynchronous nature of this integration style supports FORCEnet operations in variable connectivity environments. In EDA, applications are designed so that “events” trigger messages to be sent between independent applications that are completely unaware of each other—decoupled as opposed to the loosely coupled services that are inherent in the SOA-based approach. Messages are typically sent using the publish and subscribe approach because it enables the simultaneous delivery of messages to multiple destinations. Event-processing technology may be used to listen to incoming events from many different sources and to filter, map and apply constraints to those events using sophisticated rules. Simple event-driven processing has been in commercial use for several years, along with message-oriented middleware, but complex event processing is still emerging.

FORCEnet, and the ensuing network centricity, is less about delivering a physical network and more about delivering disruptive warfighting capabilities and decisive outcomes that emerge from networking U.S. forces and decision makers across the doctrine, operations, training, materials, logistics, personnel and facilities framework. It is clear that to capitalize on these envisioned capabilities, we must prepare U.S. forces to operate in an information-rich environment as well as to continue operations when and if the tactical situation requires disconnecting from the network. Emerging technology will provide sustained support to the commander and will enable network-centric operations across the asynchronous nature of combat.

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