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Network-centric warfare: an exchange officer's perspective

Network-centric warfare: an exchange officer's perspectiveFUTURE COMBAT systems envisage war fought in a network-centric manner with machines' observations enabling network fires to engage the enemy with or without human involvement in the sensor-shooter cycle. This network-enabled warfare will win the battle, but any war machine having no human compassion might alienate the population it seeks to liberate.

Understanding political imperatives is important to commanders at every level. Communications and information systems (CIS) providers must understand commanders' unique requirements. By overly concentrating on the needs of the joint task force (JTF) commander, the CIS provider might ignore the squad leader's needs. Network operations concepts are well suited to the higher commander's needs, but network management, information assurance, and information-dissemination methods should be examined at each level of command. Network-centric warfare requires each part of the network to benefit the whole. Applying a hierarchical priority to the network risks disenfranchising those at lower levels who are fighting the contact battle.

Each CIS user should receive the tailored high-quality services required in a timely fashion. Understanding differing capabilities allows the CIS provider to deliver appropriate services efficiently. A JTF commander's situational awareness is nearly revolutionary when it identifies the positions of key personnel and units advancing on Baghdad International Airport, but this level of granularity does little to enhance a platoon leader's understanding of the battle. The platoon leader's situational awareness is what he can see and what is over his immediate horizon and within weapons range. Even when CIS displays detail, every platform in the battlespace, including dismounts, will only complement the soldier's view of the real terrain.

Timeliness of situational awareness for junior commanders is measured in seconds; for commanding generals, it might be in minutes or hours. The CIS provider must understand these differing requirements and ensure end-to-end service is appropriate. To do this, the supporting CIS commander must be empowered to effect change across the network for the supported maneuver commander, not just tweak the communication transport layer.

When senior commanders discuss complex issues with advisers, decisions are deliberate and require a vast amount of necessary information gathered by many people. The demand to move complex data will be high, and whether commanders communicate via telephone or video teleconference (VTC), they must draw on a wide range of knowledge that spans the global information architecture.

Conversely, a platoon leader or company commander makes decisions quickly based on a lesser amount of information from a smaller number of people. Decisions need to be executed in a timely fashion, which affects CIS services significantly. Junior commanders in contact will continue to rely less on data services and more on voice communication. The communications unit providing CIS services must understand the different needs of commanders and ensure users receive appropriate end-to-end services with the right quality of service (QOS), not a one-size-fits-all technical solution.

As the phase of battle changes, the service that users require will also change. Units in contact are likely to depend more on voice services because voice services convey the immediacy necessary in battle. Conversely, the volume, precision, and nonrepudiation available from data services will be more in demand during planning, regrouping, or nationbuilding.

Clansman, Bowman, and Ptarmigan

The CIS lessons the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.) learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation Telic were quite different. (1) A British Ministry of Defence publication said CIS infrastructure in Iraq could not easily support the information exchange requirement, relied on numerous gateways, and did not interoperate well with the United States in coalition planning. (2) The communications system Clansman, to be replaced by Bowman, was not criticized as it had been during operations in the Balkans. (3) Surprisingly, no mention was made of Ptarmigan, the primary telephone system from division to battalion and the only secure mobile telephone service available in significant numbers at the tactical level. Personal observation suggests Ptarmigan provided (with some expectations) a reasonable QOS to mobile and static subscribers. Ptarmigan met most user expectations, facilitated command and control (C2), and received relatively little criticism--not bad for a system based on 1970s technology.

In its lessons learned, the 1st U.S. Marine Division was highly critical of its more reliable digital equipment, such as the single-channel ground and airborne radio system and digital telephone switches because they depend on line of sight (LOS) communications. The division also criticized the do-more-with-less procurement policy that maintained or, in some cases, reduced previous radio scalings, in contrast with experiences in Iraq that demanded a significant increase in radio scaling. Because of the less dense maneuver operations battles, the division had a greater need for high frequency (HF) radio and tactical satellite (TACSAT) services than envisaged by those procuring the equipment.

The 3d U.S. Infantry Division's (ID's) lessons learned concluded that mobile subscriber equipment (MSE) cannot support a division's on-the-move requirements while the division is conducting continuous operations and moving its elements. (4) The lessons learned also identified the need for more TACSAT and similar range-extension systems.

The marked contrast between the performance of MSE and Ptarmigan (two apparently similar systems) is somewhat surprising. However, Ptarmigan has the advantage of having been adopted for use in an expeditionary context (in Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999). It has routinely had VSC501 (a Landrover-deployable system), satellite-communications (SATCOM) links under tactical command for network range extension, and a permanent switching hub in the U.K. for rapidly establishing mobile subscriber access and headquarters communities-often in less than an hour.

Because the 1st U.K. Division's mission was effectively a relief in place of the 1st U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force, communications assets could remain within a "Ptarmigan tactical bound" of combat units, ensuring near-continuous coverage. Conversely, MSE had no satellite links under such immediate control, and the distances involved in reaching Baghdad, not Basra, were considerably more challenging. The differing operational demands placed on the two systems were more of a factor in their performance and provide a lesson for the future. This does not mean that LOS communications cannot work, but that the mix of systems must be appropriate to the mission, and expeditionary tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for supporting maneuver warfare must be in place and practiced.

The shortage of equipment in the 1st U.S. Marine Division, the reduced range of digitized systems, and the need for HF and SATCOM offer some lessons for Bowman. Doing more with less might work on paper, but it did not do so for the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC). Bowman is being fielded at approximately one-for-one with Clansman, so the 50- to 100-percent increase the USMC sought suggests scaling could be the first lesson learned when Bowman deploys. Indeed, scaling has been an issue already for combat service support (CSS) units that will have significantly more Bowman equipment than Clansman equipment.

Joint Tactical Radio System

The Joint Tactical Radio System seems to be heading in the opposite direction. The desire for high bandwidth is reducing planning ranges (a consequence of physics), not increasing them as experience on the maneuver battlefield requires. Consequently, it is important to understand the effects of communications systems on the passage of information in the Future Force. To assume a perfect communications network in the Future Force is to base that network-centric force on a falsehood that will undermine this preeminent concept and is contrary to lessons learned by major military powers in recent conflicts. Communications are most likely to fail when an operation is at its most complex, compounding the effect on military capability.

During OIF/Operation Telic, both U.K. and U.S. forces demonstrated the need for an increase in SATCOM. However, need must not become dependency. Complex terrain, such as mountains or an urban environment, can obscure geostationary satellites from available ground terminal locations. Weather can render ground terminals unusable, particularly during sandstorms. Overreliance on SATCOM courts disaster during operations where the environment and latitude are different.

 
 
 
 
 

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