The U.S. military is in the midst of a far-reaching transformation driven mainly by new information technologies. The same innovations that are revolutionizing global commerce and culture are also changing the way in which America wages war. Many of the ideas about how military transformation should unfold originated in the Navy, in a conceptual framework that has come to be known as “network-centric warfare.”
The latest refinement in Navy thinking about network-centric warfare is an initiative called Forcenet (or “FORCEnet” in naval parlance). Navy leaders describe Forcenet as the “glue” that will hold their scattered warfighting assets together in the information age — a resilient web of wireless links reaching from the seabed to geosynchronous orbit that can continuously connect the Navy’s warfighting communities with each other, and with the rest of the joint force.
That sounds like a simple task, but in fact it is the most challenging system-integration effort any government agency has ever undertaken. The Navy describes six overarching goals of Forcenet: comprehensive, timely information for weapons and sensors; a “distributed and collaborative” command-and-control system; dynamic, resilient networks; adaptive and automated decision aids; “human-centric” technology and processes; and sophisticated information-warfare tools.
The technical standards and specifications for achieving such goals are very complex. In simple terms, though, Forcenet seeks to leverage recent investments in what might be called the three “R’s” of information- age warfare — the richness of sensors, the reach of networks and the relevance of fused, multisource information. If the many cutting-edge programs in these areas can be integrated in a common architecture, the gains in military performance should be truly revolutionary.
The design philosophy of Forcenet emphasizes flexibility and cooperation. Flexibility is afforded by open architectures, modular components, common standards, and other features that mimic the user-friendly environment of the Internet. Cooperation is reflected in the Navy’s determination to fashion a network that seamlessly links to all organic, joint and national assets. This will enable the Navy to avoid duplicating the investments of other services while maximizing interoperability in wartime.
Because Forcenet is a realignment of existing efforts rather than new technology, it is inexpensive. Its annual budget is expected to be less than a tenth of the $300 million the Navy currently spends everyday. Nonetheless, by tearing down barriers to effective warfighting and efficiently leveraging all investments in new technology, it has the potential to transform warfighting. Among the existing Navy programs that offer some hint of what it can deliver are the Cooperative Engagement Capability, the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System, the Tactical Exploitation System, and the Advanced Hawkeye surveillance aircraft.
This report was written by Dr. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute and reviewed by the members of the Naval Strike Forum.
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