Network-centric warfare

Network-centric warfare, also called network-centric operations[1] or net-centric warfare, is a military doctrine or theory of war pioneered by the United States Department of Defense in the 1990s.

It seeks to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by information technology, into a competitive advantage through the robust computer networking of well informed geographically dispersed forces.

Background and history

Network centric warfare can trace its immediate origins to 1996 when Admiral William Owens introduced the concept of a 'system of systems' in a paper published by the Institute for National Security Studies.[2] Owens described the serendipitous evolution of a system of intelligence sensors, command and control systems, and precision weapons that enabled enhanced situational awareness, rapid target assessment, and distributed weapon assignment.

Also in 1996, the Joint Chiefs of Staff released Joint Vision 2010, which introduced the military concept of full-spectrum dominance.[3] Full Spectrum Dominance described the ability of the US military to dominate the battlespace from peace operations through to the outright application of military power that stemmed from the advantages of information superiority.

Network Centric Warfare

The term "network-centric warfare" and associated concepts first appeared in the Department of Navy's publication, "Copernicus: C4ISR for the 21st Century." The ideas of networking sensors, commanders, and shooters to flatten the hierarchy, reduce the operational pause, enhance precision, and increase speed of command were captured in this document. As a distinct concept, however, network-centric warfare first appeared publicly in a 1998 US Naval Institute Proceedings article by Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski and John Garstka. However, the first complete articulation of the idea was contained in the book Network Centric Warfare : Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority by David S. Alberts, John Garstka and Frederick Stein, published by the Command and Control Research Program (CCRP).[4] This book derived a new theory of warfare from a series of case studies on how business was using information and communication technologies to improve situation analysis, accurately control inventory and production, as well as monitor customer relations.

Understanding Information Age Warfare

Network-centric warfare was followed in 2001 by Understanding Information Age Warfare (UIAW), jointly authored by Alberts, Garstka, Richard Hayes of Evidence Based Research and David A. Signori of RAND.[5] UIAW pushed the implications of the shifts identified by network-centric warfare in order to derive an operational theory of warfare.

Starting with a series of premises on how the environment is sensed, UIAW posits a structure of three domains. The physical domain is where events take place and are perceived by sensors and individuals. Data emerging from the physical domain is transmitted through an information domain.

Data is subsequently received and processed by a cognitive domain where it is assessed and acted upon. The process replicates the "observe, orient, decide, act" loop first described by Col. John Boyd of the USAF.

Power to the Edge

The last publication dealing with the developing theory of network centric warfare appeared in 2003 with Power to the Edge, also published by the CCRP.[6] Power to the Edge is a speculative work suggesting that modern military environments are far too complex to be understood by any one individual, organisation, or even military service.

Modern information technology permits the rapid and effective sharing of information to such a degree that "edge entities" or those that are essentially conducting military missions themselves, should be able to "pull" information from ubiquitous repositories, rather than having centralised agencies attempt to anticipate their information needs and "push" it to them. This would imply a major flattening of traditional military hierarchies, however.

Power To The Edge's radical ideas had been under investigation by the Pentagon since at least 2001. In UIAW, the concept of peer-to-peer activity combined with more traditional hierarchical flow of data in the network had been introduced.

Shortly thereafter, the Pentagon began investing in peer-to-peer research, telling software engineers at a November 2001 peer-to-peer conference that there were advantages to be gained in the redundancy and robustness of a peer-to-peer network topology on the battlefield.

Network-centric warfare/operations is a cornerstone of the ongoing transformation effort at the Department of Defense initiated by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It is also one of the five goals of the Office of Force Transformation, Office of the Secretary of Defense.

See Revolution in Military Affairs for further information on what is now known as "defense transformation" or "transformation".