If you listen closely to the whispers of political intrigue in Washington, you can sense the end of Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as defense secretary approaching. Past rumors of Rumsfeld’s demise have been, as Mark Twain put it, greatly exaggerated. But this time is different, because just about everybody wants him gone, including much of the White House staff. With his second quadrennial defense review wrapping up, Rumsfeld is undoubtedly asking himself why he needs to put up with all us fools for three more years anyway, so a near-term departure seems probable. Which means that sometime soon defense secretary Joe Lieberman or some other suitable successor will have to sort out Rumsfeld’s legacy.
Much of that legacy will be on display in the final report of the quadrennial review, which Rumsfeld is scheduled to receive in draft form on December 23. The report reiterates core themes of Rumsfeld’s transformation framework, stressing in particular the virtues of “netcentricity.” Netcentricity is the economical way of describing network-centric warfare, an innovation that Rumsfeld appropriated from the Navy early in his tenure to explain how previously balkanized military forces could be integrated into a unified enterprise using information technologies. The basic idea is to create a resilient network of global links that will enable all elements of the joint force to communicate instantaneously, getting whatever information is needed to warfighters in whatever form they need it.
This is a genuinely new approach to warfare, as its late progenitor, Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, often pointed out to those who failed to grasp its potential. Netcentricity enables extraordinary leaps in military performance, leaps that will eventually save millions of lives and billions of dollars. But netcentricity is still in its infancy, and Rumsfeld has poured so much money into pursuing it that traditional tools of warfare like submarines and bombers have been neglected. Rumsfeld’s successor will have to figure out which initiatives are worth continuing, and which are redundant or unworkable.
Some of the networking initiatives are already clear winners, such as the Link-16 digital messaging system and the Distributed Common Ground System for exploiting multisource intelligence. In most cases, it’s too soon to say. But judging from the Army’s demonstration test of its Warfighter Information Network — Tactical (WIN-T) last month, a new winner in the race to netcentricity is emerging. WIN-T is the Army’s integrating communications network for future warfare, a three-tiered architecture of orbital, airborne and ground links that provides comprehensive connectivity to a scattered and highly mobile force. The automated system is designed to answer complaints from warfighters that current links are too unwieldy and hard to access when forces are engaged in fluid, fast-paced operations.
The November test proved that WIN-T can provide high-capacity, wireless voice and data network access to commanders at all levels of the force despite a very dynamic operating environment. With a minimal battlefield footprint and modular design, the system is self-healing in the sense that it automatically works around the loss of nodes to maintain network integrity. This flexibility is largely missing from legacy communications systems, creating vulnerabilities as the pace of warfare accelerates. Test results were so positive that the Army is expected to begin deploying WIN-T with operational forces next year, far ahead of other next-generation networking efforts. Which means Donald Rumsfeld’s legacy already is turning into something real — not just ideas, but true capability for America’s soldiers.
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