Arthur K. Cebrowski, 1942-2005
Navy vice admiral was known as father of network-centric warfare
- By Bob Brewin
- Nov 21, 2005
Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, retired director of the Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation, died Nov. 12 after a long battle with cancer.
He spent the last six years of his DOD service fighting a cultural climate resistant to change. Although Cebrowski has been hailed as the father of network-centric warfare and operations, his true legacy may be the dogged effort to change DOD's culture.
"Transformation is not just about technology and things," Cebrowski said at an April 2002 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Rather, it is more about culture, behavior and the creation and exploitation of promising concepts to provide new sources of military power. A military bureaucracy does not squelch innovation by modernizing its forces; innovation is undermined when experimentation and prototyping of new ideas is prevented, and when newly developed and fielded systems are subordinated to outdated operational concepts."
Cebrowski loved the Navy, but he used his bully pulpit at the DOD office to try to push the service away from operating mega-billion-dollar carriers and their support ships. He favored a new age of warfare based on hundreds of mini-carriers and lightweight combat ships he called "Streetfighters."
He advocated an equally radical approach to net-centric operations, which he articulated in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in February 1999. He argued against the development and use of centralized systems.
"The centralized control of information itself is a folly which will subvert the great advantage that America has in information technology and processes," Cebrowski said. "The power of information is derived from access and speed, not from control and management."
The ability to use such pointed, forthright language may seem to be something that comes as a privilege of rank and decades of service. However, his brother John Cebrowski, a Marine aviator who served in the Vietnam War, said that was not the case. Arthur Cebrowski was always direct, his brother said. It had nothing to do with his senior rank.
Cebrowski was famous for his intellect and the ability to cram a wide range of concepts and ideas into a short conversation. He believed fervently in his ideas and the importance of sharing them, taking the time to discuss his thoughts with anyone he encountered.
Cmdr. Chris Dour, who served as Cebrowksi's public affairs officer at the Naval War College, said that on his first day on the job, he was called in for a 30-minute meeting and left three hours later after a thorough tutorial on the revolution in military affairs.
Cebrowski also had unbridled optimism. He told a longtime friend from Villanova University, Beth Hassel, shortly after he left the Office of Force Transformation to fight cancer that "I'm not retiring, I'm restructuring." Hassel is executive director of Villanova's Office of Campus Ministry.
Peter Denning, director of the Cebrowski Institute for Information Innovation and Superiority at the Naval Postgraduate School, said Cebrowski eventually abandoned chemotherapy and decided to put his intellect to use in fighting the disease. He followed a macrobiotic diet and studied literature on substances that activate the immune system and detoxify the body, Denning said.
John Cebrowski said his brother cannot be remembered without acknowledging his deep and abiding faith. Hassel agreed. At a memorial service last week at Villanova, Hassel said Cebrowski was a "transforming leader because he...found his courage in the love of God."
Sally Sullivan, vice president of business development at Northrop Grumman, who was instructed in the Catholic faith by Cebrowski and his wife, Kathy, found great peace and power in the man.
"Just being in Art's presence, whether at church or in a work setting, was like sitting on the bank of a beautiful river -- admiring the elegant, smooth flow of its surface and the power and passion of the undertow beneath," Sullivan said.