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strategic challenges in a networked centric environment

network centric, strategy network centric environment transformation





21st Century Conflicts will be affected by a variety of diverse factors. While technology proliferation will be the prime driving force, other aspects such as globalization and humanism will also have significant impact on the scope and nature of wars. Humanitarian interests have spelt the death knell for MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction offered by nuclear weapons, which are however significant as dissuasive – deterrents. Collateral damage in conventional wars is also not acceptable but regular warfare will continue to be the model based on which developments in the art of war fighting will occur, to be transposed suitably to other forms of conflict. Since violence as means of resolution of power polity continues to hold sway around the World, new forms of conflict have emerged, the spectrum which has been graphically depicted as per Figure 1.

Conduct of future wars is best described by American doctrines named after their propagators. The Colin Powell doctrine calls for overwhelming superiority, massive logistical back up and persistent, all encompassing operations. This large foot print model was the one followed during Gulf War I. On the other hand the Rums field doctrine adopted for Operation Iraqi Freedom entailed shock and awe, low signature, operations conducted at high speed and tempo. A varied model adopted during the Afghanistan War was of employment of special forces and lightly armed squads calling in precision fires, heli and air landed maneuvers which succeeded in flushing out the Taliban. Lack of US ability to consummate conventional success into Presidential aim of establishment of democracy in Iraq has been ascribed by strategic thinkers as Barnett to poor, “Sys Admin” or system administrator force. Indian Armed Forces have the unique advantage of a gargantuan conventional force functioning in a mix between the Powell and Rums field doctrine as applicable to a developing World’s military and effective sys admin capability. An interlocking doctrinal grid which is lacking can be provided by network centric warfare.

LICO, Counter
HIGH Terrorism
Peace Making
Operations Out of Area
Peace Making Operations
Limited Operations


Conventional +
Tactical Nuclear


The key factor in conduct of wars today is information. While Gulf War I has been named as the First Information War, in merely a decade and half we have graduated to the First Networked Centric War, Operation Iraqi Freedom. The power of information has been exponentially enhanced by networking as illustrated by Metcalfe’s Law, which simplistically stated implies that the value of the information chain enhances with the number of nodes in the network. RMA (Revolution in military affairs) driven network centricity enabling precision, optimal lethality, restricted collateral damage, unmanned systems and effective command and control networks will be the essence of success in the future.

Integrating the large number of arrows in an armed forces quiver from geographically dispersed locations such as multi configured missiles, aircraft based lethal munitions, attack helicopters and conventional artillery, fusing these assets in shared battlefield situational awareness from the GI to the general and massing effects of weapons and forces will achieve victory at low cost. Network Centric Warfare is the first major conceptual leap after the blitzkrieg with deep operations theory, air land battle doctrine and information warfare being merely interregnums. Full fructification of the concept will lead to shared intent with the commander resulting in self synchronized forces, swarming on the centre of gravity. War objectives will be achieved in compressed time, reducing collateral damage and limiting number of people going to war as was seen during the conflict in Kosovo when a mere 1500 NATO air crews engaged less than a thousand Serbian air defense specialists and some forty thousand soldiers. .

Operations conducted in the network centric environment have been rightfully characterized as effects based operations though EBO even transcends operational level to strategic level targeting of centre of gravities. It also heralds graduation of military operations from plan centricity to operations centricity overcoming Moltke’s burden, “a plan seldom lasts the first shot in battle”.

Designed for conventional warfare, however network centric warfare can be applied in the strategic pre war phase as well as low intensity conflict operations with equal effectiveness as theorized by the Chinese as,” Grand warfare concept”, which combines military and non-military means. This will enable for the first time in the history of warfare, creation of capabilities based rather than threat based forces which can be employed in a multi configured conflict spectrum.


The concept of future combat systems envisages a large number of manned and unmanned systems which are interlinked by a mobile network based on a number of complementary programmes such as tactical radio systems, information networks and so on. The US Army’s Future Combat System comprises 18 manned and unmanned vehicles interlinked by an extensive network to develop which 140 complimentary programmes have been undertaken. Information is the backbone of future combat systems, the development of which is a multi field, multi system function.

The Prime information imperative would be achieving seamless intra and inter collaboration in platforms, systems, commanders and forces in a robust, secure and multi media format while on the move in a hostile combat environment and is thus not merely a communication function.

Collaborative sharing of information will provide each node in the network the power of the whole, empowered to acquire, access, share and disseminate information horizontally and vertically with other nodes and with other systems in the web. Each node in the future combat system will thus be a powerful information processing hub. The power of the combat system will depend upon the processing power of its processors and effectiveness of the software driving the system. Processing power in individual systems will be supplemented by power available in the network and sharing will overcome redundancy.

The individual component of the future combat system taken will essentially be a networked platform which constantly scans the combat environment within its sphere of interest to acquire information which is relevant, accurate and timely, simultaneously share it or decide on action or store it for future. Action will be undertaken with reference to range, lethality and circular error of probability or CEP and based on information feed from the system controller to lock on to the target and engage or allot it to the most optimally effective resource.

The networked information architecture will entail robust, high performance info structure with large band width which will be unaffected by movement in an intense combat environment, able to survive lethal as well as informationally decapitating strikes. The latter will assume significance as an asymmetrically weaker force may attempt to focus on information attacks. Thus connectivity cannot be traded for mobility or involvement in a combat engagement. The US Army has reportedly fielded the Command and Control on the Move System (C2OTM) in V Corps since July 2005.

Information acquisition capability should be through a multiplicity of sensors, ground, air, satellite or UAV based as well as from parallel systems. Sharing should be in image, picture, photo or text format as streaming video, chat, web log, email or even multi media messaging on hand held mobile devices from space to the ocean floor.

The software capability should border on omniscience, culminating in creating a commonly fused battle picture at any platform for all its users and a sharing of commander’s intent as well as flexibility to adapt to a changing operational environment rendering the system capable of being operations centric. Thus open standard, open architecture; open source software would be ideal for seamless sharing of information at all security levels across the system. Convergence of hardware to include input, output, processing power and storage in small hand held devices with the ability to process data, voice and image is the way ahead.

Creation of all encompassing information grid which is integrated, interlocking, interchangeable, robust and reliable under intense combat conditions would be the final information imperative to support all combat systems in a theatre to create not only sensor shooter but a domain integrating network for controlling physical, information and cognitive domains. All source fusion and analysis of information is also essential to avoid, “data drowning” in an information surplus environment likely to be experienced in the future.

The ultimate aim would be to turn every platform into a sensor as well as a weapon, a soldier a processor and controller through seamless communication. If the soldier is being envisaged as a combat system his capability will be that of a, “strategic corporal”, a squad leader with operational autonomy and communications to call air strikes at a key stroke. This could all be a utopian wish list at present but would gradually emerge as the all encompassing parts of a network.


Technology adoption and transformation is about revamping the way we make war and not just adopting information and communication technology to establish networked grids. Unlike the commercial sector, where technology adoption was based on untailored emergence of e business or e commerce from Licklider’s vision of a, “Galactic Network” of 1962, Leonard Kleinrock’s packet switching, the ARPANET, the TCP/IP protocol and invention of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners Lee, the military sector today has advantage of structured technology development and adoption. Technology transformation model should ensure that existing operational capability is not disturbed and at the end of the transition period competitive superiority vis a vis all our adversaries is established. The technology adoption strategies would involve setting priorities to enable development and implementation of network centric concepts and capabilities, establish specific goals and overcome impediments to progress. The strategic steps in the technology transformation model will include the following:-

Science(a) and technology (S&T) and research and development efforts should be focused on evolution of network centric environment in battlefield conditions by developing a symbiotic relationship between the researchers, technologists, innovators and soldiers.

(b) Developing a joint interface for technology adoption.

(c) Establish commonality in standards for all the three services in the technologies being `adopted including common literature, both training and technical.

(d) Correctives applied after continuous analysis.

(d) Establish time lines and mile stones for transformation.

Technology transformation involves eight major activities as indicated in a model developed by the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University to include establishing teams, gathering requirements, denote current status, analyze the gap, prototype, pilot and roll out solutions and evaluate lessons for sustained adoption. This is being graphically shown as per Figure 2 below.

Applied to the network centric environment, there would be various stages in the technology adoption process, developing platform centric grids within the platform to developing information grid within a networked force, to connected networks and finally a web of networks. The main technical areas of development in the network centric environment will include the following:-

(a) A multi-sensor information grid to create dominant battle space awareness linked by a simultaneous communications grid with broad band multi media capability.

(b) A sensor-to-controller-to-shooter grid connecting geographically dispersed forces for effective targeting
 (c) A command over ride network.

(d) Information security to protect sensors, communications, and networks from disruption or exploitation.

(e) Offensive information warfare capability.

The various stages, most of which will be carried out concurrently, in the technology transformation process will be as follows:-

(a) Develop and establish technological concepts of networking based on vicarious models in the civil as well as military sector.

(b) Developing hardware and software for execution of concepts.

(c) Simulation-based tests will aid and assist in virtual assessment of potential, and reduce failures and time for development. The US Defense Industry has established a number of modeling labs to support network centric operations research.

(d) Creation of trials and test beds for validation under varied conditions.

(e) Field trials or battle labs in selected units and formations in varied terrain and operational conditions. Gradually all units and formations will be based on a common standard.

(f) Synergizing technologies and operational concepts will be an interregnum in the aim of network centricity.

(g) Extending the technology and concepts throughout the armed forces would be the final step.
(h) Developing systems and processes for repair and maintenance cover will ensure survivability of the system in adverse combat situations over sustained periods.

The transition model will have to be based on developing platforms as integrated nodes. Sensors within the platform will be linked with other sensors through a sensor network, a platform network and finally an information network providing redundancy. The creation of systems architecture will involve a design with shared knowledge between domains. Platform development can follow the pattern of the arsenal platform of the US B 52 Stratofortress which can launch its own remote controlled reconnaissance planes, drop surface sensors to be embedded on ground, maintain direct video contact with troops on the ground as well as in the air and also fire laser guided missiles directed from stand off distances on pre and immediately designated targets.

Technology focus should be perhaps on developing the technology parameters of the entire information network and should remove or delink those which could possibly fall in the domain of training or doctrine. For instance in a C4 ISR system, the technology element is envisaged in the computers, communications, information, surveillance and reconnaissance elements and command and control could be developed through training and doctrine inputs. The hierarchy of adaptation may involve development or adaptation of existing technologies to envisaged purposes through a graduated process of war games, computer assisted simulations, test beds and field trials. The transition model would involve continuous, incremental changes from the lower to higher levels in a graduated manner. It should involve, “sustaining innovations” rather than, “disruptive innovation” of simultaneous changes across existing stove piped fiefdoms.

Exploiting information technology for technology transition will be the key medium. Unlike other forms of warfare, technology adoption in the information sphere can be carried out in peace time commencing with paperless offices in all our functioning to ERP and so on.


In summary, the adoption and transformation process is a multi discipline one, social, cultural and overlapping systems. A supportive environment, resources, communications channels and leadership vision are all parts of the same system. Technology will have to be adopted based on simplicity, trialibility, relative advantage, compatibility and support. Extending knowledge amongst a critical mass of early adapters, persuasion and permeation of the same through regular and repeated use and confirmation will be strategies for educating personnel.
Published: 2006-04-01
Author: rahul bhonsle

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