Small steps taken in long quest for net-centric military
The vision has been out there for a long time: a network-centric world where information among military programs or branches can be accessed by commanders or decision makers in a timely manner.
Every year, chief information officers, intelligence personnel, generals and academics make their way to net-centric conferences in four-star hotels. They come armed with PowerPoint presentations explaining to audiences - mostly made up of contractors - where they need to be and what needs to be done to get there.
But is anyone doing anything, and when will they be expected to "arrive?"
While those who attend such conferences say they fully embrace the idea of a net-centric world, there are many in the military who are resistant to change. Those who come armed with the PowerPoint slides maintain that the roadblocks preventing interoperable communications are mostly cultural, rather than technical. However, steady progress is being made, specialists at a conference sponsored by Worldwide Business Research claimed.
There needs to be an investment in the "material network" and the "social network," said John A. Garstka, assistant director of concepts and operations at the Defense Department's office of force transformation. Both are essentials, he said. "You can over invest in one and under invest in the other, and you just don't get the outcome that you were hoping for."
Chief information officers, when investing in a new program, don't always have a firm grip on the "people component," he added.
"The human element is the great unknown here," Garstka said. Bureaucratic knife fights - between those who want to maintain control of the information and those who think they should have access to it - may be the result if cultural issues are not addressed, he said.
"You have to be able to do technology innovation, but you've got to be able to do process innovation, organization innovation and people innovation," Garstka said. Forcing change can be disruptive if these non-technological factors are not taken into account, he added.
Ron Harris, Marine Corps technology architecture analyst, said the service is taking steps to wrest control of data from those who think they have the right to its exclusive use.
"We're going to take authoritative data away from those who think they own it," Harris said.
The Marine Corps may operate the platforms from which it is collected, but "ultimately, [the Defense Department] owns the data," he said.
One solution to the problem has been the initiative from the Office of Secretary of Defense to create "communities of interest," where different programs from various organizations, both military and civilian, join together to create a more seamless flow of information. A lead service is identified, and its job is to meld the programs and evolve the net-centric vision.
One of the first communities organized was "time-sensitive targeting," an Air Forceled group that hopes to reduce die amount of time it takes to put a bomb on a moving target. The need to quickly deliver a lethal blow to a terrorist, who may be moving from safe house to safe house, was demonstrated in the death of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq in June. While details of the operation have been kept classified, the presumption is that the operation took a coordinated effort between intelligence agencies, special operations forces, various surveillance platforms, along with the participation of the Air Force, which dispatched an F-16 to deliver two 500-pound bombs. …