Network Enabled Capability (NEC) is a term used in the United Kingdom and elsewhere for a similar doctrine. In Sweden, one of the first nations in Europe to begin the transformation, the term, translated, is Network Based Defence. The term "netcentric warfare" may be used interchangeably with the term network-centric warfare.
As a distinct concept, however, network-centric warfare first appeared publicly in a 1998 US Naval Institute Proceedings article by Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski and John Gartska. The concepts were later given greater depth in the book, Network Centric Warfare coauthored by Gartska, David S. Alberts (Director of Research, OASD-NII), and Fred Stein of The MITRE Corporation. Published by the Command and Control Research Program (CCRP), the book derived a new theory of warfare from a series of case studies on how business was using information and communication technologies to improve situation analysis, accurately control inventory and production, as well as monitor customer relations.
Network-centric warfare was followed in 2001 by Understanding Information Age Warfare (UIAW), jointly authored by Alberts, Gartska, Richard Hayes of Evidence Based Research and David S. Signori of RAND. UIAW pushed the implications of the shifts identified by network-centric warfare in order to derive an operational theory of warfare. Starting with a series of premises on how the environment is sensed, UIAW posits a structure of three domains. The physical domain is where events take place and are perceived by sensors and individuals. Data emerging from the physical domain is transmitted through an information domain. Data is subsequently received and processed by a cognitive domain where it is assessed and acted upon. The process replicates the "observe, orient, decide, act" loop first described by Col. John Boyd of the USAF.
The last publication dealing with the developing theory of network centric warfare appeared in 2003 with Power to the Edge Power to the Edge, also published by the CCRP. Power to the Edge is a more speculative work and easily the most revolutionary in terms of its implications for military operations. It suggests that modern military environments are far too complex to be understood by any one individual, organisation, or even military service. Modern information technology permits the rapid and effective sharing of information to such a degree that "edge entities" or those that are essentially conducting military missions themselves, should be able to "pull" information from ubiquitous repositories, rather than having centralised agencies attempt to anticipate their information needs and "push" it to them. This would imply a major flattening of traditional military hierarchies, however. It is not yet clear whether the vision of Power to the Edge is realisable, although Alberts and Hayes argue in the book that the establishment of the Global Information Grid is the first step to accomplishing it.
Power To The Edge's radical ideas had been under investigation by the Pentagon since at least 2001. In UIAW, the concept of peer-to-peer activity combined with more traditional hierarchical flow of data in the network had been introduced. Shortly thereafter, the Pentagon began investing in peer-to-peer research, telling software engineers at a November 2001 peer-to-peer conference that there were advantages to be gained in the redundancy and robustness of a peer-to-peer network topology on the battlefield. Colonel Robert Wardell said "You have to empower the fringes if you are going to... be able to make decisions faster than the bad guy".
Network-centric warfare/operations is a cornerstone of the ongoing transformation effort at the Department of Defense initiated by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It is also one of the five goals of the Office of Force Transformation, Office of the Secretary of Defense.
See Revolution in Military Affairs for further information on what is now known as "defense transformation" or "transformation".
The US DoD has mandated that the Global Information Grid (GIG) will be the primary technical framework to support network-centric warfare/network-centric operations. Under this directive, all advanced weapons platforms, sensor systems, and command and control centers are eventually to be linked via the GIG. The term system of systems is often used to describe the results of these types of massive integration efforts.
The topic Net-Centric Enterprise Services addresses the applications context of the GIG.
A number of significant U.S. military programs are taking technical steps towards supporting network-centric warfare. These include the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) of the United States Navy and the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program in the United States Army.
Net-Centric Enterprise Solutions for Interoperability (NESI) provides, for all phases of the acquisition of net-centric solutions, actionable guidance that meets network-centric warfare goals of the United States Department of Defense. The guidance in NESI is derived from the higher level, more abstract concepts provided in various directives, policies and mandates such as the Net-Centric Operations and Warfare Reference Model (NCOW RM) and the ASD(NII) Net-Centric Checklist.
The tenets of network-centric warfare (Alberts, 2002, pp. 7-8) are:
See also Partnership for Peace for information on extending coordination efforts to non-NATO nations that are keen to support military operations other than war activities, such as international peacekeeping, disaster response, humanitarian aid, etc.
"Net-centric warfare's effectiveness has greatly improved in 12 years. Desert Storm forces, involving more than 500,000 troops, were supported with 100 Mbit/s of bandwidth. Today, OIF forces, with about 350,000 warfighters, had more than 3,000 Mbit/s of satellite bandwidth, which is 30 times more bandwidth for a force 45 percent smaller. U.S. troops essentially used the same weapon platforms used in Operation Desert Storm with significantly increased effectiveness."
The aspiration of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to embrace network-centric warfare is outlined in the document ADF Force 2020. This vision has been criticized by Aldo Borgu, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). By developing interoperability with U.S. systems, in his view, the three arms of the Australian Defence Force could end up operating better with their sister United States services than with each other.
Network centric warfare is criticized by proponents of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) doctrine. These criticisms are often based on a perceived focus on technical solutions, expensive and "legacy" (Cold War era) platforms, and transformation policies; allegedly at the expense of ignoring current operational needs and funding.
Also, since Network-centric warfare focuses so much on distributing information, one has to be wary of the effect of false, misleading, or misinterpreted information entering the system, be it through enemy deception or simple error. Just as the usefulness of correct information can be amplified, so too can the repercussions of incorrect data entering the system achieve much greater non-positive outcomes. One way that this can happen is through errors in initial conditions in a uncorrected, closed system that subsequently skew result-sets; the result-sets are then reused, amplifying the initial error by orders of magnitude in subsequent generations of result-sets; see chaos theory. Other possible failure modes or problem areas in network-centric warfare include the occurrence of the Byzantine generals' problem in peer-to-peer systems; problems caused by an inadequate or a shallow understanding of (or general disregard for) self-regulation, self-organization, systems theory, emergent behavior and cybernetics; in addition to this, there are potential issues arising from the very nature of any complex, rapidly-developed artificial system arising from complexity theory, which implies the possibility of failure modes such as congestion collapse or cascading failure.
Alberts, D.S., (2002), Information Age Transformation: Getting to a 21st Century Military, Washington, DC, CCRP Publications. First published 1996.