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C4ISR at Sea: Tomorrow’s networked navies

This is the second of a two-part series, based on excerpts from a presentation by Captain George Galdorisi (USN Ret.) of the United States Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific to the Maritime Security Challenges Conference 2010. The complete paper by Galdorisi and colleagues Dr. Stephanie Hszieh, Antonio Siordia, and Rachel Volner, is available at: www.navy.forces.gc.ca/navy_images/public_media/georgegaldorisipaper.pdf

We anticipate that C4ISR technologies in the world of 2030 will have evolved to the state where tool sets and data flows will embrace the full spectrum of conflict – counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, stability operations, and major regional conflicts – to say nothing of proactive and emergent humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

In this evolved state two decades hence, planning, situational awareness and execution at all levels will be seamless and continuous. All data will be exposed and available to operators at every level, all of whom will be able to compose an on-the-fly system of services and applications to meet any operational requirement.

Automated workflows will be combined with intelligent agents – agents that can be trained to perform those functions the operator wants them to perform. Concurrently, fusion solutions and enhanced presentation tools will evolve to a stage that will enable operators to gain rapid situational awareness as the tactical situation changes. As operators leverage these tools and web services evolve to what will likely be “Web 5.0,” operators will be at a stage in 2030 where they will be able to transform raw data into information, and thence into knowledge and, ultimately, understanding much faster than they are able to today.

These new C4ISR technologies have had a profound and positive impact on the ability of many navies to network with their own ships, submarines, craft, aircraft and command centers, and to freely and seamlessly exchange data and information – often in vast quantities – within each navy. And navies have found, conclusively, that their effectiveness is directly proportional to their ability not only to communicate, but to network, both at sea and ashore. Every navy wants to install networking technologies, often as rapidly as they can afford them, to gain that technological “edge” at sea.

However, this rush to install the latest cutting-edge technology has had just the opposite effect on the ability of navies to network effectively between the ships, submarines, craft, aircraft and command centers of other navies. And because of this inexorable trend, the global maritime partnership today is severely challenged. This challenge is exacerbated as nations and navies proceed along different technological development paths, as the challenges to effective networking are greater today than they were years ago when our navies used simpler – and common – communications and rudimentary networking means.

The challenge then, is this: how can these navies, which are committed to networking effectively at sea, ensure that their substantial investment in C4ISR technologies results in more – not less – interoperability?

As the headquarters, acquisition and operational staffs of Commonwealth navies work to ensure that their sailors can communicate seamlessly at sea, understanding the challenges to effective networking between navies – especially navies at different stages of technological development – is central to developing the right technical solutions.

The Canadian Force’s capstone doctrinal publication, Canadian Military Doctrine, is clear in describing the challenges to greater interoperability among naval forces, noting that: “to be effective, a coalition operation requires integrated C4ISR system architectures that share, integrate, manipulate and display data from a number of multinational and national sources and logistics systems that acknowledge national responsibilities for support while catering to coalition requirements.”

From the perspective of the United States Navy, at the very pinnacle of the U.S. military, this notion is articulated perhaps most clearly in The National Military Strategy, which notes: “Achieving shared situational awareness with allies and partners will require compatible information systems and security processes that protect sensitive information without degrading the ability of multinational partners to operate effectively with U.S. elements.”

How important is coalition networking, and what is the “state of play” of this networking today, especially when U.S. Navy combat formations attempt to communicate and share data with Commonwealth navies and other coalition partners to achieve “shared situational awareness?”

Some would say that it is not yet where it should be. As Professor Paul Mitchell, then-Director of Academics at the Canadian Forces College, noted in his article in the authoritative Naval War College Review, absent more effective means to network and exchange data, navies may eventually stop attempting to operate together. He raises what is perhaps the most important question regarding coalition naval communications: what level of communications and networking is required to make coalition operations at sea effective?

Professor Mitchell did not ask this question off-handedly. For a number of years the Canadian Navy has deployed a surface combatant with U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Groups (CSG) for an extended six-month deployment. In this environment, the effectiveness of coalition interoperability moved from theory to the reality of high-tempo, forward-deployed naval operations – and operations that often involved combat. As part of his research, Professor Mitchell interviewed the commanding officers of each Canadian ship that deployed with a U.S. Navy CSG to determine how effectively they were able to communicate with their U.S. partners. The results indicated that while significant progress has been made, more work needs to be done.

As Professor Mitchell noted, the experience of these Canadian commanding officers, as well as the experience of others working with U.S. naval forces in NATO exercises or operations, was that the “need for speed” in network-centric operations may result in the exclusion of even close allies. Thus, he notes, while the guiding principle of network-centric warfare is to increase the speed and efficiency of operations, coalitions are concerned with more than just combat efficiency. Rather, they are focused on scarcity in terms of operational resources, political legitimacy, or both. This led him to conclude that in a dynamic coalition environment, because of the impact of slower networks or non-networked ships, the prospects of the U.S. Navy keeping “in step” with Commonwealth navies (as well as with other likely coalition partners) is not high, absent enlightened efforts by all governments concerned.

In a capstone publication of the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Force Transformation, the late Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, considered by some to be the “father of network-centric warfare,” stated: “The United States wants its partners to be as interoperable as possible. Not being interoperable means you are not on the net, so you are not in a position to derive power from the information age.”

For a host of reasons, coalition interoperability does not fit neatly into any requirements “bin” for Commonwealth navies, for the U.S. Navy, or for other likely coalition partner navies. It does not fly, float, or operate beneath the seas. It does not strike the enemy from afar like cruise missiles. It does not enhance readiness like spare parts or training. It just does not always have the requisite degree of high-level advocacy.

This is not to imply that those in charge of setting requirements or acquiring weapons systems aren’t keen on doing the right thing, as clearly they are. However, defining operational needs, the requirements generation process, and acquisition practices have grown up over decades – even generations – and changing these processes to adequately factor in coalition communications takes a great deal of time and attention. As yet, it is a journey that is incomplete.

With naval establishments and acquisition bureaucracies increasingly driven by the rules of the marketplace – measures of effectiveness, return on investment and best business practices – the lack of measures to quantify the benefits derived from effective coalition networking augur against spending scarce research and development, and especially acquisition, dollars to enhance something that has not yet been effectively quantified.

However, it is a process that must take place if Commonwealth navies and their likely coalition partners are to operate at sea effectively for the next century. Serendipitously, the Commonwealth military establishments – as well as that of the United States – have well-developed military laboratory organizations able to work on coalition networking challenges and have well developed processes for dealing with sister laboratories in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. And given the technological challenges of effectively networking these diverse navies, the military laboratories of these five nations must pursue this as a matter of priority.

 

Author: George Galdorisi from the Oct/Nov 2010 issue published

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