DOD still working on change

Defense officials need to change their mind-sets about network-centric warfare if they want to make it stick, experts say

The military is embracing the idea of network-centric warfare, but Defense Department officials need to change their mind-sets if they want to make it stick, according to the man who first championed the concept.

"Much of what they focus on is becoming irrelevant," said retired Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, director of the Pentagon's Force Transformation Office, at the annual conference of the non-profit CNA Corp. (formerly the Center for Naval Analysis).

DOD and Congress, for example, are debating what kinds of aircraft to build, while "the real fight is over sensors" — the systems that find and identify enemy forces, then launch attacks, he said.

Cebrowski called for acceleration in the transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, saying that "fighter vs. fighter combat is in a state of devolution" as threats increasingly come from small nations that lack major military forces or from groups not aligned with nations. With better information systems, the United States will be better prepared to combat these "asymmetric" threats, he said.

The transformation chief said speed is an important ingredient of 21st century warfare, but information and combat orders are slowed down by having to move up and down each service's ranks, because "we have no joint structures" that extend onto the battlefield.

Retired Rear Adm. Michael McDevitt, who is now on CNA's staff, cited the Global Positioning System as an example of how information technology can change the character of military operations. He said that future historians probably will conclude that "GPS has been as transformative as the aircraft or the internal combustion engine."

But retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper challenged the conventional wisdom about the importance of IT. He said civilian and military leaders are making the microprocessor the focus of the transformation drive, and he fears that focus is a mistake that could leave the armed services unprepared for a future war.

The notion of network-centric warfare does little to prepare soldiers and sailors for actual combat against a real enemy, Van Riper said. Instead of focusing on IT, he said, the services must develop new concepts of effective military operations. "Don't put your faith in the technology," he said after the conference, "You've got to do the thinking first."

Other speakers also called for development of new concepts of operations for joint forces. But few joined in Van Riper's criticism of what he considers excessive reliance on IT.

Lt. Gen. John Riggs, director of the Army's Objective Force Task Force, said, "Still to this day, we haven't discovered all that is to be discovered" about IT, but we do know it's a force multiplier.

An enterprise architecture is one element of the Army's transformation plan, known as Objective Force, but he acknowledged that the service faces "a significant integration challenge" just to get its own systems communicating with one another.

In the Navy, "we are plugging in like we never have before," said Vice Adm. Michael Mullen, deputy chief of resources, requirements and assessments for the service. The forthcoming ForceNet architecture will pull together the enabling technology for the transformed Navy, he added.

The Air Force, too, is counting on an enhanced network linking sensors, communications systems and weapons systems, said Maj. Gen. Ronald Bath, the service's director of strategic planning.

Ferris is a freelance writer in Chevy Chase, Md. She can be reached at ferrisn@att.net.

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