What You Need to Know About Network-Centric Warfare: An Interview with Dr. Gil ad Ariely

Contributor:  Defence IQ Press
Posted:  04/02/2010  11:03:00 AM EDT
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Network-centric warfare has drawn growing attention in the last decade. We asked Dr. Gil ad Ariely, an expert on military knowledge development, about the development of the network-centric concept and its impact.

Describe your research focus and role.

Most widely defined I research knowledge in society. Within the institute for Counter-Terrorism at the School of Government and Diplomacy, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, I research learning patterns, innovation and knowledge development in terrorist organizations. But most of my research work tracks the evolution of knowledge in the military, defence and HLS sector. I teach and consult on knowledge innovation and managing it in the government sector, focusing on advanced knowledge methodologies. Visit my site at www.liron.net.

Describe network-centric warfare within the context of military knowledge. Who engages in it?

Network-centric warfare (NCW) as a concept has developed out of the information age technological capabilities, and thus is not unconnected to the ‘90s debates on the RMA—the “revolution in military affairs,” which assumed that gaining “information superiority” would disperse the fog of war. It assumes we can connect everyone to be networked and that they would have any needed information when needed. Some NCW followers expected that having “the right knowledge to the right people at the right time” would immediately gain victory. Alas, this is only half true (although important), and knowledge is more complex than information as it includes the context, which is always dynamic. The fallacy of being able to achieve full certainty in the midst of the battlefield chaos is extremely dangerous, although tempting. Nowadays NCW seems to have lost some of the interest it drew within the whole RMA discussion, yet this reflects the evolution of knowledge and understanding that it not some magic solution to the complexities of future conflicts.

Describe the technological context of network-centric warfare.

The technological context of network centric warfare is IT—information technology, and the capability to connect people, units and sources of information in real time or close to it. This means better situational awareness—knowing where your forces are and where is the foe, connecting sensors to shooters in shorter, faster cycles, and sharing information better and faster. Yet again, even when speaking about NCW—which many people perceive as a technological concept—the technological net is merely an enabler for human behavior complexities. Arthur Cebrowski, one of the founding fathers of NCW, wrote in 2004: “The predominant pattern of human behavior in the information age is network behavior. Network-centricwarfare is about human behavior in a networked environment, and in warfare human behavior ultimately determines outcome.” 

Why is network-centric warfare important, especially in today’s environment?

Firstly of course coalition forces, in complex dynamic operational contexts (many of which are “war amongst the people,” or are not even war) require transparent interoperability. The better we get at NCW the less chance of a “Babylon tower.”

Combined arms capabilities and different services operating coherently over a spectrum of operations require convergence, which is network centric.

Network-centric warfare, as said, should not replace sense-making by commanders in the field, nor replace the need for human interaction and communication—the commanders’ intent is permeated best as tacit knowledge when speaking across the echelons, rather than pressing “Enter” and shooting some explicit text line. Yet, as more and more of the information is conveyed unobtrusively (such as “blue force tracking”—friend/foe locations), communication can be reduced to the more qualitatively important context. There are of course grave hazards to command, such as information overload, or IT capabilities leading to micro-management and jeopardizing mission command. 

What are some of the training methods?

Although training is required for anything and everything, I would like to relate to education: The PME (Professional Military Education) must be enhanced both in manner (pedagogically) and in content to appropriate growing complexity. Implementing methods fit for “digital natives” such as simulations, wargaming and storytelling for “context-dependent-learning,” while expanding education to domains such as anthropology, culture (essential in COIN environment), networked behavior and understanding knowledge in society. This is true for junior leaders too—the “strategic corporals." The military profession is becoming more complex in the 21st century at all levels.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Many of today’s adversaries, are fractured and networked structured, sometimes a hybrid between different organizational forms and warfare forms. Thus, we need to learn how to become networked as hierarchies, and not just technologically.

I always say: “It takes a network to beat a network!”

Defence IQ Press Contributor:   Defence IQ Press

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