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CHIPS Articles: Power to the Edge

Power to the Edge
Transformation of the Global Information Grid
By Dr. Margaret E. Myers - July-September 2002
Edited from a presentation given by Dr. Margaret Myers , Principal Director, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Department of Defense

"The two truly transforming things, conceivably, might be in information technology and information operation and networking and connecting things in ways that they function totally differently than they had previously. And if that's possible, what I just said, that possibly the single-most transforming thing in our force will not be a weapon system, but a set of interconnections and a substantially enhanced capability because of that awareness."-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld – Aug. 9, 2001, Town Hall Meeting, Washington, D.C.

Defense Transformation

This article is about transformation as we see it in the Department of Defense and specifically how net-centricity will play an important role in the transformation of our combat and support capabilities. The Secretary of Defense is very clear and very upbeat in his expectations about the value of net-centric transformation. The quote above clearly identifies, in his own words, his expectations of what netcentricity is going to bring to the Department.

In their book, Blown to Bits, Evans and Wurster (Harvard Business School Press, 2000) argue that as long as information is embedded in physical modes of delivery, "there is a universal trade-off between richness and reach." They list the following attributes of richness: bandwidth (the amount of information that can be moved from sender to receiver in a given time), degree to which the information can be customized, interactive, reliable, secure, and current. Reach is simply the number of people exchanging information.

Communicating rich information has historically required proximity or dedicated channels, forcing a trade-off between richness and reach. Evans and Wurster postulate that with the advent of rich connectivity and information standards digital networks can now make it possible for a very large number of people to exchange very rich information, blowing up the trade-off between richness and reach and creating an information advantage.

Figure 1 elaborates on the Secretary's words by showing how the tranformation from today's platform-centric environment to tomorrow's net-centric environment will create an information advantage. By increasing richness and reach simultaneously, net-centricity allows us to connect together our arsenal of advanced and extraordinarily capable combat and intelligence platforms and provide them with timely and accurate data. Net-centricity allows users to augment data available from their own systems and capabilities with data from other locations and other sources well removed from the normal sensor range of the platform itself. In the net-centric environment, global information and local data sources will be fused to provide what we call "power to the edge."

Asymmetric Threat Spectrum

The riveting reality of September 11 made clear the importance of understanding the asymmetric threat spectrum and how it places our support capabilities at risk. One important difference from the days of the Cold War is how an adversary might respond to our military actions. Today, that response is most likely asymmetric, in that while we would strike a military or terrorist target with modern precision weapons, the adversary may chose an entirely different response. As we saw on September 11, critical infrastructure facilities previously assumed to be safe havens could be at risk to kinetic threats.

Support personnel who reside in those facilities could be at risk to chemical and biological threats, and there could be threats to the information--the very information networks that provide the technical basis for net-centric operations. All three of these elements of the asymmetric threat spectrum must seriously considered, singly and in combination . The events of September 11th and its aftermath demonstrated with crystal clarity that asymmetric threats are the new reality.

Asymetric Threat Spectrum--Figure 2

Kinetic Threat to Critical Infrastructure Facillities
-Covertly placed explosives
-Projectile delivered explosives

Chemical/Biological Threats to Support Personnel
Aerosol delivered persistent chemical/biological agents
Insider delivered biological agent

Information Threat to Networks/Computing Systems
Disclosure of operations/business details
Deception causing loss of confidence in a system
Denial of system resources to support operations/business
Usurpation of system resources for criminal purposes

Information Technology - Enabling Transformation

The key elements of the transformation need to be understood in their historical context. As illustrated by the Tri-Tac Program and other late 20th Century digital switched military communication systems, the technology allowed us to exchange dramatically increased volumes of information across the battlefield compared to World War II or the Korean conflict. However, we were required us to be synchronous in both time and place. You could get tremendous information, but you had to be by your telephone at the time the call was made. If you were not there when the telephone call was made, you simply missed the opportunity to get that information. While switched systems provided us with exceptional capability for the times, they severely limited the flexibility of military operations to World War II capabilities.

In the years after the Cold War and just prior to the millennium transition, we began to rethink the basic nature of military operations and, as a consequence, deployed numerous communications systems that were based on satellite broadcast technology. In the military, we are now in what could be called the Golden Age of Broadcast. We have deployed the Global Broadcast System and the Integrated Broadcast System. What makes broadcast systems so useful, is that they provide operators with large volumes of information without requiring them to be synchronous in place. Using satellite broadcast systems, operators can exchange information and communicate on the move while adopting positions and postures that make them less vulnerable.

However, you still must receive information it at the time it is transmitted. Although military operations can be distributed across different locations, operators often have to expose their position to be able to look at a specific location in the sky at a specific time. Even though broadcast systems provide a tremendous capability to push information out in large volumes to our forces, this technology still constrains the stealthiness of operations and the speed of command.

The final leg of this transformation is the ability to be truly synchronized in BOTH time and place. If you look at the tactics that al Qaeda used on September 11, you will see that they were able to operate asynchronously. Their operatives did not come together in any significant numbers until prior to the attack. Achievement of effective information flow and coordination did not require the total force to be exposed at any one specific time. They stayed dispersed and hidden. They only came together just prior to executing their mission. That is in essence what we are trying to do with our forces when they operate net-centrically. When we achieve net-centricity or the ability to operate asynchronously in time and place, we will be as stealthy as al Qaeda, but with a bigger punch.

To achieve net-centricity, we must satisfy several architectural tenets. First, "only handle information once" is essential because collecting information and data can be expensive. In combat, gaining the upper hand on an adversary may require putting people at risk in a sensitive reconnaissance mission. In day-to-day business operations, achieving corporate goals will require the collection of process data, which can impact the efficiency of business operations. Only handling information once means that technology and processes are integrated to minimize the time and effort spent collecting data.

"Post before processing" simply means that access to data for disparate needs is not delayed by unnecessary processing at the point of collection or by the organization nominally in charge of the collection means. Everyone needs to have the technical capability to access all data when it is needed. Likewise, to avoid the potential for information overload, operators must have the ability to pull data instead of having data blindly pushed to them as it is with many of today's broadcast systems. The ability to pull data when I need it, in the form that I need it, is a vital component of net-centricity .

Collaboration technologies assist the operator in making sense out of the data he or she pulls. To successfully operate within our increasingly complex and interrelated world, unprecedented combinations of subject matter experts are often needed to make sense out of special situations. These experts are not likely to be found in any one single unit or organization. Therefore, the ability to pull expertise from both within a unit as well as from across the Department is an important value-added feature of net-centricity.

In net-centric operations, we are dependent on a network to provide us the ability to operate freely. This means that the network must be reliable, and diverse information pathways must be in place to achieve that reliability. What we are really talking about is an environment where interoperability and information assurance are the rule and not the exception. As [Retired Vice Adm.] Art Cebrowski [DoD Director, Force Transformation] said, "If you are not interoperable, you are not on the net, you are not contributing, you are not benefiting, and you are not part of the information age."

High Leverage Net-centric Investments

The Secretary is pursuing high leverage net-centric investments representing three of the major tipping points for achieving transformation. While these investments are part of an integrated Global Information Grid strategy, they are designed to meet separate but related GIG objectives. The first pillar, the GIG Bandwidth Expansion provides networked services with unprecedented bandwidth to operating forces as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets that can be interconnected by increasingly available fiber optics.

Advanced Wideband SATCOM extends these capabilities through wireless tails of incredible bandwidth--also using optical technologies. Providing the actual power to the edge falls to the third of the net-centricity pillars--Horizontal Fusion. Horizontal Fusion is the pillar of net-centricity that will allow us to post our data to the network, pull other data from the same network, and make sense out of it all .

GIG Bandwidth Expansion

Figure 3 shows the pillar of transformation for the GIG Bandwidth Expansion. Bandwidth expansion is about using the most advanced optical networking technology to implement a foundation network that interconnects our most critical installations in the United States and the many places around the world that optical fiber touches. The use of advanced optical networking technologies will eliminate bandwidth as a first order concern for our forces.

Bandwidth, like air, should be in abundant supply and not seen--not felt--but always there. Think of it this way. We are planning an important operation, and someone suddenly says, "I'm not sure we have a sufficient air supply." Immediately the conversion becomes fixated on the availability of sufficient air. The same thing happens in planning combat operations. The first time an individual says, "Do I have enough bandwidth?," The conversion turns to, "Well, do we or don't we?" and the ability to use information to capitalize on the situation of the moment falls prey to discussions of bandwidth availability.

Overview of Candidate Locations

We looked at a variety of locations across the world that are reachable by fiber optics and that were transformational in nature. Many of the transformational facilities and locations are those that support a large intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. The ability to connect with satellite facilities is also a major constituent of GIG Bandwidth Expansion. Combatant command and component commands are also important because they represent information centers -- places, where information is pulled to and decisions are made. The GIG Bandwidth Expansion will provide extraordinary bandwidth on the order of 100 times the capabilities currently provided to 80 or 90 facilities around the world.

Ownership will be relatively well distributed among the military departments--with the Air Force having a larger share primarily because Air Force personnel operate many of the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. Figure 4 provides an overview of candidate locations. Geographically, about three-quarters of the locations are within the continental United States, important because in today's environment the ability to reach back to those facilities from forward locations is the way we conduct operations.

Pulling information rather than equipment is better from a force protection point of view because equipment requires protection. About a quarter of the locations are overseas, primarily in areas where fiber optics are available and where we have a long-term presence. Pacific Command has over half of the facilities, which is appropriate given the number of square kilometers that Pacific Command covers, and the premium placed within their command on intelligence-based reconnaissance.

Technology Assessment

Figure 5 shows the availability of technology and why the technology shift is vital. Optical networks, shown in Figure 6, are wavelength division multiplex, which simply means instead of dealing with individual bits per second, we talk about colors. Each color represents a wavelength and that wavelength supports ten billion bits per second of information or 10 gigabits. It's possible to stack lots of colors within a fiber optic cable and provide incredible bandwidth to any location that can be reached with that cable.

GIG Bandwidth Expansion is the capitalization of state-of-the-art technology deployed across the enterprise, but we don't have to have it all at once. The good news about optical technology is that it's scaled to start off with a relatively modest size network-a few colors on the backbone and then gradually increasing it to a large number of colors on the backbone. Some of the backbone can actually be in space. The important point is this technology scale provides us the ability to grow-there are no blind alleys in the technology, and therefore it makes a good investment.

Advanced Wideband SATCOM

The second pillar of our net-centric investment is an optically cross-linked Advanced Wideband Satellite constellation. Figure 7 shows how the Advanced Wideband SATCOM fits into the integrated net-centric transformation effort. This pillar is critical because many of our users are deployed in areas where optical fiber is unavailable, and many of our information sources, particularly intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, are airborne, and are, therefore, especially difficult to link into a wide-band network.

The centerpiece of the space-based pillar of net-centricity is the on-orbit deployment of the Advanced Wideband System, which provides wide-band radio frequency, and laser communication against objects in space. When integrated, the combination of the GIG Bandwidth Expansion and AWS will provide the networking basis for a Global Information Grid. The GIG will be capable of providing wide-band network services both to deployed forces and, as we've seen in Afghanistan, the exfiltration of data from sensor-laden UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that are able to fly well over the adversary's area. Today, UAVs are flying with an incredible array of sensors, but their use is limited by insufficient bandwidth for posting their data and making it available to combatant commanders, intelligence analysts, and policy makers.

Horizontal Fusion - Power to the Edge

The real power of the edge comes from human ingenuity enabled by data and software applications. Communications networks are essential but are valueless without the ability to ensure that data are reliable and that operators have the ability to use the data in an integrated manner. These are the tasks that fall to the third pillar of net-centricity-- Horizontal Fusion. Horizontal Fusion represents the investments necessary to procure the means and tools to allow smart pull and data fusion-the sense making of data by users. We will provide those means and tools by investing in data content and management as well as in the procurement of primarily commercial applications. We will also need to understand and foster net-centric processes, many of which will differ significantly from the way we do things today. Figure 8 shows the results of the fusion effect.

The Horizontal Fusion Investment

Currently in DoD stovepipe information sources tend to produce their own capabilities for data, and the problem is growing across those stovepipes. We have islands of situational awareness that are tied to specific intelligence or information collection capabilities, and there are various latencies or delays that are not controlled. We are trying to move to a location where the environment of latency is controlled. We want to make access to the stovepipes as easy horizontally as it is vertically.

DoD Direction on Data

DoD has made significant efforts in establishing policy and procedures to improve data holdings in the Department. DoD Directive 8000.1, which prescribes the responsibilities for management information as a resource, is clear in delineating many of the principles presented in this article. XML Registry implementation will allow searching through metadata (data about data), which is tagged, and made available for people to pull data without having to search each of the documents or data holdings.

Net Readiness

One of the implications for the acquisition community is that systems must be designed to be "net ready." This means that features such as network connectivity and security must be designed in from the beginning. There will be major changes in how we think about achieving interoperability because it will be impossible to specify in advance all the exact connectivities required. With the help of the Joint Staff, we will move from today's mandatory interoperability key performance parameter to a net-centric or net-readiness parameter. We will need to design the appropriate "net ready" mechanism using commercial standards. As we move from platform-centric systems to network-centric capabilities, we will need net-ready platforms with on-board data accessible and consumable by off-board users. As an example of this, the Joint Strike Fighter would be both an information producer and consumer.

Power to the Edge

It is clear that the transformation for net-centricity in the Department is well on its way. We will proceed at a brisk pace to increase the power to the edge, whether it's in the form of the ability to hold many targets at risk with a global net-centric surveillance targeting capability or with the ability to do automatic tagging of selected sensored data. As the capabilities improve, the ability to network applications through fiber optics and forward-deployed satellite communications will proceed rapidly.

At the end of the day, we will know that we have power to the edge when people throughout the trusted, dependable and ubiquitous network are empowered by their ability to access information and recognized for the inputs they provide.

Go to the Department of Defense Web site -- for more information about DoD Transformation and other Defense programs.

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