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 May 2005 

Lt. Gen. Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr., USAF (Ret)

Successful Net-Centric Operations Require Joint Testing

May 2005

by Lt. Gen. Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr., USAF (Ret)

The wars U.S. forces are fighting today—and can be expected to fight in the foreseeable future—undoubtedly are shaping the military services' requirements for new and improved technology.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly, have underscored the importance of joint operations and equipment interoperability among the services and with coalition allies.

The concept that describes the ability of weapon systems to work jointly is "net-centricity." Military planners and defense policymakers have wrestled for years with a fundamental question: How can U.S. military operations be "net-centric" when most weapon systems were developed in isolation and are not interoperable?

The U.S. Joint Forces Command, which was given the responsibility to help set joint requirements for the services to achieve network-centric systems, is working on a number of efforts, including a joint command-and-control battle management roadmap and experiments in joint missions areas. According to JFCOM, the transformation of the military to achieve net-centricity is the command's primary mission.

At the Defense Department, meanwhile, there is an ongoing effort worth highlighting, because it focuses on joint tactics, techniques and procedures. It essentially zeroes in on testing the ability of war fighters to operate jointly with today's equipment, organization and doctrine.

Obviously, joint operations and joint requirements are far from new concepts. But the joint test and evaluation of multiple systems in a single operational scenario is not something that has been done on a routine basis. It requires a lot more cooperation and planning than ever before.

Under the Defense Department's Joint Test & Evaluation program (JT&E), the military services or regional combatant commanders can seek funds to help solve operational issues through the development of joint tactics, techniques and procedures, changes to operational processes and command-and-control architectures. Joint issues are resolved using operational T&E techniques, not experiments or demonstrations.

In a presentation to an NDIA symposium last month, Mike Crisp, deputy director for air warfare at the Defense Department's operational test and evaluation office, said the services need "joint operational solutions," rather than just new hardware acquisitions.

The $40 million JT&E program marks a step in that direction.

A nominating organization—a military service or unified command, for example—can propose JT&E projects. The selected efforts receive funding for operational tests, but the services must provide personnel, test assets, venues and facilities.

Key to this endeavor is the development of better modeling and simulations that can replicate operational settings in a realistic fashion. Current models have not reached the level of “physics-based” reality that is needed, but the technology gradually is improving.

The JT&E office so far has funded a number of projects, including:

  • Integration and interoperability of special operators and conventional forces.
  • Development of a method to assess command-and-control architectures as they relate to mission assurance.
  • Joint tactics, techniques and procedures to improve Link 16 information exchanges.
  • Command-and-control and joint tactics to integrate and synchronize friendly space control capabilities into the joint force commander's targeting cycle.
  • Logistics command-and-control architecture to support joint force logistics and operations.
  • Joint tactics, techniques and procedures to enable theater commander to integrate component fires at the operational and tactical levels.
  • Convoy survivability procedures to minimize combat casualties.
  • Standard joint procedure for tube loading the 2.75-inch folding fin aerial rocket on U.S. Army and SOCOM helicopters with engines running and blades running.
  • Aircraft operations in high-threat environments
  • Joint forward operations base force protection.

More details on these can be found on the program's web site

A number of issues, however, need to be addressed to make this program successful. Getting the proper resources is a major concern. The services need new technology and facilities for joint testing. Clearly, it's too expensive to bring together assets such as ships and aircraft in battle group for testing. More advanced simulation technologies are critical to this effort. One example is the joint engineering distributed plant, or JDEP, a massive hardware-in-the-loop simulation managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency. But more modeling and simulation is needed at the program and system level. These technologies are expensive, but they are necessary to ensure that systems will work as expected when they are sent to war. In other words, they will allow forces to test their systems the same way they fight.

As the Defense Department and the services continue on the path toward network-centric operations, it is imperative that the joint testing of weapons systems become integrated into the broader development and engineering cycle. This is an important goal, especially at a time when interoperability and connectivity among the services and their coalition partners are not just luxuries, but necessities.

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