Commentary | Network demands restructure an industry

Defense consolidation focused on building IT capabilities to face down new and varied threats

In the recent Quadrennial Defense Review, Defense Department leaders designated global network-centric operations as a major goal of the military transformation. They want to develop their high-bandwidth global information grid into an intranetlike system that will make all Pentagon information capabilities Web-based.

With the appropriate security clearance, anyone from the soldier riding a Humvee and pilots flying reconnaissance missions to officers directing operations at a mobile command post will be able to click a button and get immediate access to critical information that is regularly updated and often tailored for the user.

Tactical forces will use network computers to give directions to sensors collecting intelligence, and commanders will use the data to make target engagement decisions.

Discussions about embryonic versions of this information-age warfighting vision first began in the early 1990s. The defense industry then was contending with profound changes, including the ending of the Cold War and severe budget cutbacks.

At Northrop Grumman Corp., we responded to this difficult environment with a strategic repositioning of the company based on our analysis of future military requirements.

We thought America's forces would face new challenges and threats ranging from regional conflict to terrorism. Forces would face guerrilla warfare and weapons using technology ranging from low-tech arms to systems for cyberattacks to weapons of mass destruction.

In this uncertain environment, we predicted that DOD would rapidly embrace a new warfighting system of networked sensors and strike platforms that would let our forces see the entire battlespace and engage the enemy in near real time.

In preparing Northrop to support this new direction, we pursued what eventually became a decade-long merger and acquisition campaign. We sought companies that were leaders in information systems, systems integration, defense electronics and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as those with expertise in the marine and space domains, which would be key for globalizing network-centricity.

Our acquisitions, coupled with internal growth, transformed us from a $5 billion aircraft manufacturer into a near-$30 billion diversified defense company. IT accounts for about one third of that revenue, all of which comes from companies we acquired.

Of course, in the 1990s, our company's restructuring was only one of many. The diverse businesses of more than 50 defense companies were combined and reorganized into five large companies, each with multiple capabilities.

As we approached the new millennium, the big companies prepared for DOD's new approach to military operations.

Remarkable progress has been made toward realizing the Pentagon's vision. We saw this in the new warfighting systems that helped our forces in 21 days decisively defeat Iraq's armed forces.

U.S. soldiers and marines used a Global Positioning System-linked battlefield wireless intranet system to generate ? on computer screens in troops' moving vehicles ? a common picture of friendly ground forces.

To develop intelligence about the enemy, the Air Force ran an early version of the Distributed Common Ground System to link surveillance aircraft with ground stations and intelligence processing centers via fiber-optic terrestrial lines and satellite communications.

This network gleaned so much real-time intelligence from sensor platforms, including UAVs like Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk, that it let flyers shift from preprogrammed air tasking to targets of opportunity.

And because pilots usually engaged those targets with GPS- or laser-guided munitions, their strikes were significantly more accurate than those of previous conflicts.

The military successes in Iraq were groundbreaking, but much more is coming. Future technology will dramatically improve our military effectiveness.

As for sensors, active electronically scanned array radars will provide much greater range and resolution, while carrying out multiple surveillance tasks at blinding speeds. These powerful agile radars will be carried by ground, sea and airborne platforms, and eventually by satellites in space.

As for strike systems, chemical or solid state laser systems deployed for specialized missions will engage targets at the speed of light and rapidly prosecute multiple engagements.

Military IT networks will see three types of improvements:

Better connectivity. Common software and data-link processing will ensure tactical communications interoperability among aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and other platforms.

Better analysis. Advanced software for automatic target recognition will use model libraries and other databases to further classify vehicles into potential enemy, friendly or civilian sets, letting the military track a specific target for hours or days at a time.

Better enrichment. Software algorithms will correlate battlespace information with supplementary data from repositories to provide commanders with a larger context of political, economic and cultural understanding. It will surpass the capabilities of the current simpler case in which georeferencing algorithms automatically match tactical imagery with maps in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency collection.

Achieving these breakthroughs will be challenging, but our industry is up to the task. The powerhouse companies built during the industry's consolidation have the reservoirs of creativity, partly because they have developed a new paradigm for program competitions that generates increased innovation through expanded cooperation and collaboration with their peers.

Along with this will come the natural increase in cyberwar, in which enemies will try to disrupt these networks while we use security measures to ensure their effectiveness.

Given the wide range of capabilities available and the country's urgent need, our defense industry-Pentagon partnership will surely realize the full promise of network-centric operations, equipping our forces to meet tomorrow's uncertain threats with the fullest situational awareness and the fastest counteraction with the most robust security possible.

Kent Kresa is chairman emeritus of Northrop Grumman Corp.

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