DOD prepares to leap net-centricity gaps

IT security, change management among the most prominent

AGILE: U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Jim H. Brady (right) and an Iraqi soldier with an Iraqi Army division conduct a foot patrol in Rawah, Iraq, in April 2006.

Courtesy of DoD Cpl. Brian M. Henner, U.S. Marine Corps.

Despite support from senior leadership, the military's network-centric push still faces hurdles that threaten the pace of progress, particularly on security and cultural issues.

From a programmatic viewpoint, net-centricity, a top DOD priority, is on the right path, according to David S. Alberts, research director in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration.

'We have the policy and data strategies in place. Information sharing and collaboration are proceeding in different domains. We also have made enormous investments in infostructure,' Alberts said.

But the effort remains deficient in a number of areas, he said, including information assurance of the DOD infostructure and the attitudes of some older officers. Infostructure is DOD's term for the hardware, software and communications technologies that ensure information access, security and reliability.

'The intellectual foundation of network-centric operations still needs to be more rigorously tested and refined,' Alberts said. Additionally, 'some older officers don't want to get out of their comfort zone.'

He also stressed the need for a greater commitment to experimentation.

'Experimentation needs to proceed under lots of different circumstances,'
he said. 'You need to drive the system to failure so that you know its limits. We also need to create a better knowledge base of lessons learned.'

Another challenge involves extending network-centric concepts to command-and-control assets.

'Part of the command-and-control problem is who has the right to do what, with which assets,' Alberts said. 'If data from satellites identify a target, the information should be going wherever it makes most sense to take action. It shouldn't matter what organization they are in.'

In that way, Alberts argued, netcentricity coincides with the development of a joint force.

He also said that the concept of network-centric operations involves a significant shift in the way the military disseminates information.

'We used to say that the owner of information was responsible for its dissemination,' Alberts said. 'This idea equated expertise in collection with knowing when, how and to whom to disseminate the information. As a result, information was not widely disseminated.'

Under concepts of network-centric operations, information owners post it on the network for use by whoever needs it.

'Users can produce any product they want with the data,' Alberts said. 'This approach is more agile than having information owners deciding who needs the information and disseminating it to them.'

Networking and information-sharing also improve information quality, according to Alberts.

'Just the ability to share means that more sharing takes place,' he argued. 'People are going to talk about what data they want and where to get it. This creates collaboration in the information domain, and that process improves the quality of the information. With some experience and practice, information users adopt more rapidly [to] a shared situation awareness. This is the tipping point of the network-centric idea.'

The ultimate future challenge for net-centricity will involve extending the practice to the U.S.'s coalition partners.

'Some allies are more gung ho than we are' when it comes to network-centric operations, Alberts said.

He noted that Air Force Gen. Lance Smith, commander of the Joint Forces Command, has initiated experiments in net-centricity with NATO and U.S. allies.

Tests conducted in Brussels in May included exchanging information with the NATO forces as well as among the national forces of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

'Now the question becomes how far we go with them,' Alberts said. 'We have traditionally felt constrained in sharing information with coalition partners. But we are coming to the realization that if they are fighting with us, they need to know what is going on.'

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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