DOD networks the future

Jack Zavin, DOD'schief of interoperability, says net-centricity is a matter of fitting moving parts together.

J. Adam Fenster

The Pentagon's Arthur Cebrowski says transformation is a strategy: 'It doesn't make a lot of sense to say we'll have all those FCS capabilities at once.'

J. Adam Fenster

Driven by Iraq war, some parts of FCS will arrive ahead of schedule

Somewhere in time, the Army is fighting wars with a super-agile, lightning-fast force of manned and unmanned ground vehicles, air vehicles, sensors and munitions'a networked suite of weapons interoperating effortlessly with other military networks. Armed with superior information, it obliterates the enemy without being detected.

It sounds futuristic, and it is. The Army's Future Combat Systems program, the flagship of the Army's transformation effort, is still in the early stages of development and about a decade from fielding its first fully equipped Unit of Action.

But Army officials are bringing the FCS future a little closer. Prompted by the exigencies of the war on terror and the ongoing fighting in Iraq, they recently announced that the program would be accelerated to provide some FCS technology elements to the current force before the fielding of the 18 FCS systems begins in 2014.

The realignment represents a change 'from a monolithic program to a strategy,' said retired Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, head of the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation. 'It doesn't make a lot of sense to say we'll have all those FCS capabilities at once at some future date,' he said earlier this month at a Washington R&D conference.

Instead, the Army should 'pull in some of the elements to the operational force today. We need experience with the networking and software,' he said.

Program officials expect to begin merging elements of FCS' network technology into current-force systems in 2008 or perhaps earlier, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Dan Zanini, deputy program manager for the lead systems integrator team and FCS program manager for Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego.

'We'll look to optimize our development of the network and the network capability to get those into the current force as rapidly as we can,' Zanini said. 'As laid out, the first spirals from the program would come out in the 2008 time frame, but I can tell you we're looking very hard at what we can bring out sooner than that.'

SAIC and Boeing Co., teammates as the lead systems integrators on FCS, are developing a core network and architecture that will integrate all the elements of the system.
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FCS is the embodiment of the Defense Department's vision of a network-centric Future Force, which will let 18 avant-garde manned and unmanned systems, all operating under the same network architecture, wage war as a single unit.

'At a fundamental level, the FCS concept is replacing mass with superior information,' the Government Accountability Office said in a report earlier this year. 'That is, to see and hit the enemy first rather than rely on heavy armor to withstand attack.'

System of systems

GAO noted that the concept has 'a number of progressive features. For example, it provides an architecture within which individual systems will be designed'an improvement over designing systems independently and making them interoperable after the fact.'

Indeed, 'interoperability' isn't part of the FCS vocabulary, unless it refers to links with networks outside FCS.

'FCS isn't just interoperability,' Zanini said. 'FCS is true integration. In the FCS program, we are striving for an integrated system-of-systems approach so that, in essence, all systems are on the same network.'

The heart of the FCS network is the System of Systems Common Operating Environment, which will provide a common set of services, interfaces and applications. Its computers will run the Linux operating system, Zanini said.

'It's an open-source system and will have many of the off-the-shelf capabilities that are there or being developed in the commercial world,' he said.

The network's developers are moving toward completion of Build One of SOSCOE, which provides some of its basic architecture, Zanini said.

FCS is being built in parallel with two other nascent programs outside FCS, the Joint Tactical Radio System and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, both of which will be crucial to the FCS network. JTRS and WIN-T will provide the communications backbone of FCS.

As a result, program officials are making adjustments to the systems as they mature to ensure interoperability with FCS, Zanini said.

'It eases the interoperability as we go forward and reduces the cost over time of doing that for both systems,' he said. 'It makes it easier if you can do it at the front end versus doing it at the tail end.'

In a joint interoperability demonstration earlier this month at the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2004 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., FCS officials used SOSCOE software to provide a graphic to the cockpit of a Strike Fighter aircraft through the Air Force's Air Support Operations Center.

'That's a first-step kind of thing in linking current systems with what we're developing in FCS,' Zanini said.

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