Net-centric approach proven in Iraq

What's more

Age: 42

Family: Married, with four children

Last book read: Intelligence in War by John Keegan

Last movie seen: 'Something's Gotta Give'

Favorite city: London

Favorite sport: Soccer

John Garstka, DOD's Network-centric guru

Henrik G. de Gyor

John Garstka knows networks and what they can do to enhance warfare. He's written the book on it. In fact, he's written several books on it.

Garstka, assistant director for concepts and operations in the Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation, co-authored Network Centric Warfare: Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority in 1999.

Since writing the book, he has seen the military increase its reliance on networks in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Before joining the transformation team, Garstka was chief technology officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also has worked as a senior systems engineer for Cambridge Research Associates of McLean, Va.

Garstka, who served in the Air Force for 10 years, graduated from the Air Force Academy with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. He also has a master's in engineering and economic systems from Stanford University, where he was a Hertz fellow.

GCN reporter Dawn S. Onley interviewed Garstka by telephone.

GCN: What are your top priorities in the Office of Force Transformation?

GARSTKA: My current top three priorities are getting network-centric warfare theory right, applying network centric-warfare theory enterprisewide and creating education for transformation.

GCN: What is your definition of network-centric warfare?

GARSTKA: How a networked force fights. A robustly networked force improves information sharing.

Information sharing and collaboration enhance the quality of information and shared situational awareness. Shared situational awareness enables collaboration and self-synchronization, and enhances sustainability and speed of command.

GCN: What do you see as your agency's role in promoting network-centric warfare?

GARSTKA: Getting the theory right, identifying the impediments to implementing NCW and helping to make the impediments go away.

Some of the impediments have to do with incentives. Right now, there aren't incentives for the air and ground teams to fight together on a regular basis.

The ground commanders organize, train and equip their forces to go fight without close air support, and that's just the way the incentives are set up. If we want to see that happen, we are going to have to change the incentives.

GCN: How close is today's military to achieving this vision?

GARSTKA: This is a matter of degrees. A good metric is the degree to which the force is networked and can share information.

In some mission areas, and in some organizations, significant progress has been made. For example, in the Special Operations Forces mission area, Navy Special Warfare Group One has developed and continues to mature advanced warfighting capabilities that exploit the power of networking. They have changed their organization. They have changed their processes and have increased their mission capability as a result.

In other mission areas, such as close air support, we have a situation that is very much in flux. When F-16s and A-10s equipped with the Situational Awareness Data Link share information directly with Army ground forces, such as the 4th Infantry Division, that have been networked on the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, mission effectiveness goes way up.

But when these same aircraft try to support other Army units that are not networked with this technology, they cannot share information directly and performance drops off significantly.

It is similar to taking a cell phone that doesn't operate on the Global System for Mobile communications network to Europe and not being able to use it because of technology incompatibilities.

Over the long haul, programs such as the Joint Tactical Radio System will help improve information sharing. But in the short term, it is hit or miss.

GCN: How do you increase networking down to the last tactical mile?

GARSTKA: You invest in the network, and in the education and training of the warfighters that need to operate the network and fight another networked force.

Experimenting with and training joint and combined forces that have compatible networking capabilities is important to the development of new tactics, techniques and procedures. The same holds true for our allies.

GCN: There are numerous case studies by your office assessing the impact of network-centric warfare in coalition operations in Iraq. What were the findings?

GARSTKA: We currently have six case studies ongoing or nearing completion. Two of them are focused on developing insights into the application of network-centric warfare capabilities by allies and coalition partners. The case studies are not yet complete, but findings to date reinforce the tenets of NCW.

GCN: How important is training in relation to the tenets of network-centric warfare?

GARSTKA: Education and training have a key role to play. One trains for the known and educates for the unknown. Current and future leaders need to understand both how a networked force can fight today, as well as the underlying theory to help shape the future force.

Consequently, the transformation office has developed a short course on network-centric operations that we began offering last month.

We are also working with all DOD educational institutions to ensure that network-centric operations are covered in adequate depth.

GCN: What do you see as the biggest impediment for DOD to achieve true network-centric capabilities?

GARSTKA: Existing attitudes and beliefs about how warfare is conducted today.

The order-of-magnitude improvement in information sharing made possible by networking has the potential to create dramatic improvements in service, joint and coalition warfighting capabilities.

We have seen the benefit of this in networked air-to-ground operations. Exploiting this potential more broadly will require a level of collaboration in exploring new tactics, techniques and procedures that is sometimes hard to achieve.

GCN: What did the Office of Force Transformation learn about the way information was shared in Operation Iraqi Freedom?

GARSTKA: We learned that the ways in which information was shared varied significantly by theater of operation. The forces that were deployed in southern, northern and western Iraq had heterogeneous networking capabilities. This was particularly apparent with information sharing between air and ground forces at the tactical level. There were capabilities employed in western Iraq that were only resident there.

The Army did an amazing job in a short period of time of networking and digitizing key elements of the forces that crossed the line of departure into southern Iraq. The operational benefit of this investment was significant.

One of the few downsides was that the way that the Blue Force Tracking technology was employed made it almost impossible for coalition aircraft that were networked to have access to the common tactical ground picture in real time.

GCN: What were some of your more dramatic findings in your book on network-centric warfare?

GARSTKA: In my mind, what was significant about the book was not so much the findings but rather the predictions of increased combat power that could be enabled by the networking of the force.

Almost every aspect of network-centric operations described in the book came to pass in some capacity during Operation Iraqi Freedom. These included improved information sharing, common operational and tactical pictures, enhanced shared situational awareness, and increased speed of command and self-synchronization'with the net result being increased mission effectiveness.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.