Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Building a Beehive: Observations on the Transition to Network-Centric Operations

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Building a Beehive: Observations on the Transition to Network-Centric Operations

Article excerpt

Conceptual changes always provoke institutional resistance. Some see network-centric operations (NCOs) as a high-speed train that will ultimately determine the size and shape of future naval forces. Others think NCO could derail important programs that they believe in. There are also concerns that monumental resource allocations could be pinned to such a new and undeveloped concept. This debate occurs at a time when there is already fierce interservice and intraservice competition over the relevance and prioritization of existing and programmed platforms.

There are big bets to be placed. Is NCO the right horse? The short answer is yes. Of course, there is much uncertainty. NCO will be the product of many interacting forces. The resulting complexity will make its final form as unpredictable as long-range weather. NCO will both shape and be shaped by the character of future warfare and the development of our strategic culture, as well as by the reactions of potential adversaries to our developing style of fighting. That is why NCO should be allowed to evolve without the constraints of a precise script that would enslave it to inevitable errors in the details.

The information age has set off an avalanche of fundamental change throughout society. The best-studied effects are still unfolding in the transformation of the economy. For decades, people have been thrilled, made apprehensive, enchanted, or unsettled, but always dazzled, by the pace of technological change. Below the surface, however, lost in the commotion of new discoveries and gadgets, something much more significant has been emerging-a new economic order.1 Because of networking, the basic rules of economic behavior have been turned inside out. New laws of increasing returns describe effects that either had not occurred previously or were masked by incorrect industrial-age assumptions. During the Industrial Age, economics, warfare, and other human behaviors were radically transformed. The current transformation promises to be equally momentous.

The central issues of this paper are introduced below; each is further developed later in this discussion. Consensus on these issues can facilitate a smooth transition to network-centric operations.

High Stakes. NCO will be the essential tool of future naval expeditionary operations. What is not so clear, however, is whether it will appear on schedule or within the specifications of any grand plan.

NCO Is Too Big and Too Complex. Complex adaptive systems emerge or evolve over time after the resolution of innumerable trade-offs related to technologies, societies, economics, people, and the environment-all under conditions of irreducible uncertainty. The key to the Navy's transition to NCO will be to set favorable initial conditions and establish simple rules and to avoid hopeless attempts to prescribe the final design.

NCO Will Change Our Military's View of Things. When considered in the context of NCO, age-old questions of warfare will lead to different conclusions about doctrine, platforms, training, and culture. This is evidence that NCO should be placed in a separate hierarchy, which is not in competition with programs and infrastructure (including platforms) which are really subset issues. Since some subset issues require long-lead decisions and resource commitments, there is some urgency for moving ahead with NCO.

Immediate Value and Paybacks. An important feature of NCO is that while it is being implemented, it promises immediate benefits in small-scale, littoral operations. Unlike futuristic initiatives that require large investments and decades of development time, NCO can enhance the combat effectiveness of current forces. As it evolves, NCO will become a significant factor in large theater operations.

Sensors Are the Biggest Obstacles to NCO. NCO depends on networked sensors, people, and weapons. Sensors are currently out of synch with the progress of communications and weapons. …

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