Brass: Networked sensors power war

GPS is 'a mainstay' on the battlefield. 'It clears the fog of war'[of] not knowing precisely what's happening,' says retired Air Force Gen. Alfred G. Hansen, now CEO of EMS Technologies.

While U.S. troops with 20th-century technology fight a primitively equipped enemy, the Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation is exhorting the troops and their suppliers to wield more 21st-century weapons.

'The whole world knows that if we can see a target, we can kill it,' said retired Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, who heads the office. 'Consequently, other people are working very hard to make it difficult for us to sense their targets. So we now have to shift from a weapons game to a sensor game.'

Earlier wars, Cebrowski said, 'measured power in terms of net explosive weight, numbers of warheads, numbers of smoking holes per hour. Now I'm talking about the ability to network sensors as a source of power.'

Ultimately, he said, 'We are going to be creating a sensor environment anywhere we want it, anytime we want it. We have never thought in those terms before.'

Another transformation he foresees is speed-of-light laser weapons. 'When airplanes appeared over the battlefield, it was as if the tanks were standing still as targets,' he said. 'With speed-of-light weapons, an airplane is standing still. It's the difference between Mach 1 [1,100 feet per second] and 186,000 miles per second. And it turns out all the services are investing in efforts of this type.'

Cebrowski has set out his transformation goals on the office's 2-week-old Web site, at Among them:
  • Change the force culture from the bottom up by prototyping operations and sharing all knowledge.

  • Make network-centric warfare the organizing principle for joint systems.

  • Apply decision rules and metrics to every defense activity.

Cebrowski said transformation occurs through 'a series of small, exploratory steps' followed by 'placing a few big bets.' He cited the 30-year-old Global Positioning System as a DOD bet that paid off not only for the department but for civilians.

GPS, which is playing a vital role in the Iraq conflict, lets troops navigate through dust storms and smoke, target missiles in three dimensions, and guide surveillance drones known as UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles. GPS is currently so important to the U.S. military that the Air Force last week rushed another Navstar GPS satellite into orbit, the 28th in its worldwide GPS constellation.

Retired Air Force Gen. Alfred G. Hansen, now president and chief executive officer of satellite and wireless vendor EMS Technologies Inc. of Atlanta, called satellite-based GPS 'a mainstay' on the battlefield. 'It clears the fog of war'[of] not knowing precisely what's happening,' he said.
A satellite video, voice and data system 'that has fairly robust bandwidth'128 Kbps' is connecting U.S. aircraft carriers in the Arabian Gulf as well as vehicles of military leaders such as Gen. Tommy Franks, Hansen said. 'You can actually hold a [digital] camera and send back video from a vehicle,' he said.

Hansen declined to identify the multimedia system or the satellite it uses, but he said it is 'not anywhere near the limits' for voice and video bandwidth.

Need for agility

In contrast, UAVs such as the Predator aircraft 'use a tremendous amount of bandwidth' and a different satellite, he said. 'That limits the number of Predators that can be flown at any one time. A UAV carries quite a few sensors, and to get more of them up, you have to limit the number of sensors.'

In the past, DOD has focused on waging nation-against-nation wars, Cebrowski said in a January speech before the Network-centric Warfare Conference in Arlington, Va. But violence is moving down to the individual level, as seen in the Iraqi suicide bombings.

The military must be agile enough to downshift in reaction to individual violence.

The essential tool, he said, is information: 'You have a 1,000:1 substitution of information for mass,' for example, when fewer, lighter and cheaper bombs are needed because they can be targeted precisely.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.