Leadership: April 7, 2003

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3rd Person Perspective- The U.S. Navy is developing, testing, and fielding new systems for what it calls "net-centric" warfare. Traditionally, a captain or admiral only has access to information gathered by his own ship, its radar, sonar, and limited messages from other ships and aircraft. This "platform-centric" warfare is called first person perspective in the literary world. Based on what I see, I understand the enemy this way. 


Net-centric warfare gives the captain a third person perspective. It allows him to see through the eyes of every ship in the battle group on one display. None of this seems very revolutionary to those who have embraced the internet for business, shopping, travel, and banking, but networking your house or office is a far cry from networking thousands of tanks, hundreds of aircraft, and dozens of ships, all of which are in constant motion. Further, the volume of data involved in a radar return far exceeds a networked computer game. Its not groundbreaking work, but it is state of the art. 

The two systems most prominent in the Navy's Network-Centric Warfare effort are the Tactical Component Network (TCN) and Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). These two systems provide unique and complementary capabilities.
CEC is the high-end system, costing some $2.5-billion over the last 15-years of development and an estimated $80-million to install on each ship. The system, which includes processors, transmitters, and software installed on each ship, allows captains to share and combined the raw data from their sensors. This allows anti-aircraft missiles, for example, on several ships to engage targets identified by only one of them. It also allows signals that might be lost or filtered out by any one ship to be merged and tracked from multiple angles.

TCN is a simpler, lower cost system based on the latest computer networking technology. Unlike CEC, TCN is a software only system that uses off-the-shelf computers to create a web page equivalent for each sensor that networked ships can view. TCN requires much less bandwidth than CEC because it does not share raw data, only filtered and polished display data. This means that TCN cannot read between the lines in the same way as CEC and doesn't allow the "collective engagement" that gives CEC its name.

Despite its complexity, the advantages of net-centric warfare are clear; better information, in more places, in less time. Captains can see more of the whole picture. The risk is that net-centric salesman will convince the Navy that its third person perspective is equal to an all-knowing perspective. Knowing what all your friends know is not the same as knowing everything. --AJ Wagner

 


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