In the world of Information Technology (IT), integrating different software packages is notoriously tough—there are lots of unintended consequences when you try to run different applications together—and even commodity hardware like PCs can break. If you're in an ordinary workplace, you call the "IT help desk." But what if you're a combat Sailor or a Marine in the front lines? How can warships and riflemen use the American information advantage in the wet, mucky, and dangerous arena that is their workplace?
Ultimately, the men and women who defend us need three things of IT:
- a long-haul network for command, control, communications, and intelligence,
- a suite of knowledge management tools that lets them comprehend and act on the information presented to them, as well as collaborate up, down, and across their chain of command, and
- wireless technologies that gives them the bandwidth needed when they're in the field.
These are three of the essential components of the Navy's new concept called "FORCEnet." The Office of Naval Research has taken the lead on creating the science and technology foundation for the information architecture that will serve the Navy's new operational vision, Seapower 21. Additionally, ONR has used its insight into the technologies and goals of each of the Navy's three systems' commands to help coordinate a combined approach to introduce FORCEnet to the operational fleet in little over a year. A partnership forged between ONR, OPNAV, NETWARCOM, SPAWAR, NWDC and fleet users is determined to provide real warfighting benefit in the near term while building a roadmap to the future.
The long-haul network is emerging from several initiatives. An agreement between the Chief of Naval Research and the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Advanced Systems and Concepts initiated JTF (Joint Task Force) Wide Area Relay Network (WARNET), a hardware and software architecture that ties command, control and communications systems from all the Services together in a robust combat network. The US Pacific Command has begun to deploy JTF WARNET. Working with SPAWAR and the OPNAV FORCEnet Office, this component was integrated with other Navy concepts such as the Information Technology (IT) 21 planned fleet upgrades and the Expeditionary Command, Control, Communications and Computers Combat Grid (EC5G) to create a true Intra-Battle Group Wireless Network. Executed by the Navy Research Laboratory and SPAWAR, this effort will ensure that the Naval Task Force is seamlessly tied together whether separated by a few hundred yards or hundreds of miles.
A variety of intelligent agents—specialized computer programs that pick out present important data—and the software architectures they need to work well together make up the knowledge management part of FORCEnet. They can help Sailors and Marines sort out the important information from the trivia—if you don't manage information well in combat, you'll find that you've just replaced the fog of war with the glare of war. Several ONR initiatives completed as part of the Knowledge Superiority and Assurance (KSA) Future Naval Capability (FNC) are focused on harvesting the critical nuggets from an overwhelming stream of data. For example, the web-technology tool suite was fielded in prototype form aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson and used during battle group operations during Operation Enduring Freedom, the military response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The carrier USS Constellation is now receiving the second installation. In addition several other applications from KSA were utilized in Operation Enduring Freedom and are being evaluated for integration into the current effort. SPAWAR and NETWARCOM initiatives such as the Web Enabled Navy, improvements to the Global Command and Control System - Maritime (GCCS-M), central to reaching the desired level of functionality are implemented side by side with more experimental efforts such as elements of NWDC's Expeditionary Sensor Grid.
Marines ashore will benefit from this effort as well. JTF WARNET will provide over the horizon linkage to maneuver forces. At the same time, a Blue Force Tracking initiative implemented by JTF WARNET, Navy and Marine Corps TENCAP offices and USPACOM will ensure that the GPS-accurate positions of Marines (and Army troops) are known all the way to the squad level. Robust situational awareness of the battlefield as well as rapid access to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data will now be available at the tactical Commander's level. Additionally, the tactical commander will see a tremendous enhancement in the timely movement of fires requests, measured in milliseconds vice minutes.
New antenna technologies being developed through ONR's advanced multi-function radio frequency concept (see "Felling Antenna Forests" http://www.onr.navy.mil/media/tipoff_display.asp?ID=34#1) (AMRF-C) will eliminate the mutual interference plaguing the antenna farms that sprout on ships and around command posts. AMRF-C, one of the most technologically challenging and revolutionary steps to fully implementing FORCEnet, is rapidly moving ahead in shore-based demonstrations.
The FORCEnet concept was a product of several years work by the Navy's Strategic Studies Group, a forum of savvy officers with plenty of fleet experience. It aimed at bringing the Navy's concept of "network-centric warfare" to reality. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark has decided to accelerate FORCEnet for early delivery.
"FORCEnet isn't another big-think ‘vision' that generates more PowerPoint than combat power," says ONR's Dr. Bobby Junker. "JTF WARNET—which is being built with fielded systems—is already being demonstrated and readied for deployment."
FORCEnet will continue to evolve as it incorporates new technologies and adapts to new operational concepts—much as Seapower 21 evolves as a vision for naval operations in the 21st century.