C2 software peers into the future

How NICCI evolves current architectures

Current enterprise systems are:

  • Platform-centric, stovepiped and static

  • Based on client-server architectures and LANs

Intermediate enterprise systems are becoming:
  • Brokers for information exchange

  • More adaptable via Java and Extensible Markup Language

Future NICCI systems will be:
  • Self-organizing, dynamic and recombinant

  • Based on technologies such as Microsoft .Net, Simple Object Access Protocol, and the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration framework

A draft plan for network-centric warfare calls for the military services to adopt peer-to-peer computing, which would profoundly alter the existing hierarchy of command and control.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the draft plan for a Network-centric Infrastructure for Command, Control and Intelligence (NICCI), now being circulated for comment. GCN obtained a copy of the draft.

Sources said the potential cost of an experimental NICCI test bed would run about $150 million.

DARPA's partners in drafting the plan were the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Army Communications-Electronics Command's R&D and Engineering Center, the Joint Forces Command, and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego.

'Moving the power to the network edges [via peer-to-peer connections] means providing the warfighter with decision-making authority,' the draft said.

The core of NICCI would be a dynamic software habitat within a globally networked grid.

Each peer user attached to the grid would get information and services from the appropriate habitat in the right format and at the right time. The habitats would have to know what kinds of data and analyses were available, and they would also keep track of the rules of engagement for each group of users.

Building such a construct would require new software that can heal its own malfunctioning components and cope with the different architectures of users' wireless phones, radios and computer systems.

The self-monitoring and -healing feature would rely on the software probes and gauges being developed in DARPA's Dynamic Assembly for System Adaptability, Dependability and Assurance (DASADA) program.

Ripple effects

'Software tools put things in the right shape, but gauges make it happen,' said Robert Balzer, chief technical officer of Teknowledge Corp. of Marina del Rey, Calif. He gave the keynote speech at the DASADA 2002 conference in Baltimore this month.

Balzer said the 'increasing use of black-box, heterogeneous commercial objects within systems means that there are ripple effects from changing a single component.' A self-healing system must be able to deal with the ripples and 'reconfigure itself on the fly from a model of what it should be doing,' he said.

NICCI's habitat software would also have to compensate automatically for problems such as bad communications links, as well as with new policies and changes in user-peers.

Equipped with interface 'wrappers,' a habitat could interact dynamically with habitats of other military forces as well as with legacy systems. Each habitat would have its own specification to authenticate its roles, rules, components and users.

And that specification itself would be dynamic, changing as needed.

Apart from the NICCI draft plan, the military services have several other battlefield information integration projects under way.

The Air Force is prototyping a Joint Battlespace Infosphere, which would fuse information from C2 systems and gradually supplant them. Under its publish-and-subscribe architecture, source clients notify target clients of new information that the targets have previously asked to receive.

The Navy is developing an Extensible Tactical Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence Framework.

The Army is collaborating with DARPA on a Future Combat Systems Demonstration Program. Combat technologies under development include autonomous robot systems, ground sensor platforms, and weapons for surveillance and targeting.

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