Systems Of Systems: Managing Complexity

A French Take
By General Gaviard


«The  rational optimization of systems of systems (...) will profoundly
 change our operational concepts, but their  justification, ultimately, will
always depend on their  ability to still serve  the soldiers who implement them.»
Photo credit:  http://defensetech.org, 2006

 

01/28/2011 – The term “systems of systems” first appears to be an abstruse acronym, but it actually covers a quite simple reality: the networking of several systems, which will thus be able to exchange information and data in real time. The goal: get a more efficient operational synergy.

Regarding the networking itself, the Americans – who have taken the lead in this area – emphasize the word “NCW” (Network Centric Warfare), while NATO chose that of “NEC” (Network Enabling Capabilities). The semantic difference is rather significant, because in the first case the network is seen as a focal point (“Centric”) within the operational system, while in the second it is identified as a support capacity (“Enabling”) to the operations.

Regarding the networking itself, the Americans – who have taken the lead in this area – emphasize the word “NCW” (Net Centric Warfare), while NATO chose that of “NEC” (Net Enabling Capabilities). The semantic difference is rather significant, because in the first case the network is seen as a focal point (“Centric”) within the operational system, while in the second it is identified as a support capacity (“Enabling”) to the operations.

By choosing to emphasize the “NEC”, Europeans point out that men remain at the heart of complex systems. This is a fundamental point, which we shall return to in the conclusion.

Networks have long existed in the Air Force and Navy. Thus the treatment and data information system of Air Defense (Système de Traitement et d’Informations de données de Défense Aérienne:  STRIDA) has been implemented in the Air Force for over 30 years! On the one hand, given the lengthening of ocean communication lines, maritime operations have always been based conceptually on the networks. Regarding the army, on the other hand, the rise of the “digital battlefield” is more recent. This “NEB” is progressing rapidly, however, especially via the “Blue Force Tracking” which will, once mastered, enable us to obtain a geo-location of friendly ground elements. The tactical data links (TDL) are another example of networking. Thus, link 16 which is dedicated specifically to air operations, allows us to pass in real-time a lot of encrypted air defense information between the various platforms and the center of command and control (C2). These exchanges enable us to instantly develop a relevant assessment of situation to the benefit of all air assets, providing de facto a greatly increased capacity to act.

Meanwhile, the centers of command and control or C2 of Earth/Air and Sea composition, now real “cathedrals” of operations, where all missions are planned and conducted, will inevitably evolve. The change will rely tomorrow on lighter C2s, working in a more collaborative and horizontal way (that is to say, joint), as opposed to land, air and sea platforms, connected by tactical data links. These conceptual developments concerning “C2 constellations” are formalized today by NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (Supreme Allied Transformation in Norfolk). To illustrate this evolution, we may note that the air support, for example, requires planning and a more integrated air-land action between decentralized ground and air C2s. These so-called “distributed” operations are, however, only achievable if the C2s in question locally benefit from an efficient situation assessment. The information must be based on a multi-sensor strategy, oriented and checked by the work of field agents. This data fusion was well highlighted, and rightly so, through the French White Paper’s new strategic priorities: “knowledge and anticipation”.

Transformation based on networks is now real. Slogans are far, and concrete achievements in this field are increasing throughout the industrial and technological base of French defense. What consequences should we  draw in particular as far as operations, industry and acquisition are concerned in order to better manage the complexity and security of these network systems?

Regarding operations, we must concentrate on four major topics:  writing the concept of operations ; the touchy subject of interoperability ; the transverse organization of command ; managing complex information flow.

  • The concept of operations is central to network operations. Unmanned Aerial Systems or UAS perfectly illustrate this topic.  UASs are indeed thriving, but there is no fully developed overall concept of operations to regulate or guide its use. Given the possibilities offered by their networking, we can all understand why it is so important to define beforehand a concept of use before accumulating platforms even if they are all individually quite efficient. Given its complexity, writing such a Concept of Operations (CONOPS) can only be reiterated: in France, the Joint Chief of Staff has understood it quite well and his institutions in charge of the “UAS” doctrine, such as the CICDE, rely heavily on the lessons learned on the ground to come up with operational and realistic concepts.

In France, the Joint Chief of Staff  (…) and his institutions in charge of the “UAS” doctrine, such as the CICDE, rely heavily on the lessons learned on the ground to come up with operational and realistic concepts.

  • Interoperability is also a central theme. This problem is indeed directly related to CONOPS and standards. The situation is not simple; strictly national networks exist in all multinational operations and consequently they are different levels of confidentiality which require appropriate gateways (Internal Exchange Gateway: IEG) to ensure a safe dialogue between the national and “shared” areas during the operation. NATO references are not enough anymore as can be seen today in open theaters. For instance, Americans in Afghanistan impose specific standards due to their massive presence in operations. The example of the American “Rover” system that transmits the video taken by the pod of the aircraft to the JTAC (ground leaders) largely illustrates their dominance in this area.  Rover has indeed never been a NATO standard. It went directly from American national standard to a “de facto” allied standard. Networks, in general, and their points of convergence and treatment (the famous “C2”) in particular are very much affected by this paradoxical model.
  • The organization of command is also very much affected by networking. The possibility of transversal information exchanges tends to “crush” the traditional levels of commands which have been rather vertical up until now. Hierarchy keeps its virtues! However, we cannot ignore the effects of the networks on sociology and command. Therefore, new concepts are now proposing a suitable command organization.  In the army, for instance, NEB ( “numérisation de l’espace de bataille“, i.e. battlefield digitization) experiments have shown that the battalion level (Joint tactical group or GTIA) corresponds to a synthesis level where information and decisions converge and focus. At the tactical level, networks allow for a more pertinent situation assessment than in the past.  Delegation – and thus the autonomy of action – are logically gaining in size as long as one strictly abides to the desired operational effect. On the contrary, the command of joint theater level– operational level that is, which also benefits from a potential “tactical zoom” capacity thanks to the networks, must avoid falling into the trap of “micro-management” that involves taking the role of tactical chief from the HQ: a common but incapacitating mistake,: network or not, it is the  Commander on the ground who can best analyze the situation he is facing. Networks are there to support (it’s the whole point of the word enabling in the “NEC” acronym mentioned above).
  • Managing information flow within a network is also essential: “too much information kills the information”! One must know how to merge all the gathered information to knowingly “sublimate” it (so called “information to knowledge” process, and then, using dedicated structures, to “route” this processed information to the various concerned officials with a targeted priority and confidentiality. This “military” issue is nothing specific: the processing algorithm of the Google search engine does the same thing with the requests it receives: sort, validate and propose limited choices sorted by relevance! Mutatis mutandis, such network management structures exist in NATO as “knowledge management cells” or “KMC”. However, this “real time” information management is still far from perfect even though the progress of “knowledge processing” within C2s is rapidly gaining in consistency. Here again, we clearly see that training of men using complex systems is at the heart of the matter. In this context, we can cite the example of the French Air Force CASPOA. As a training center for C2 officers, it is in fact NATO’s first French center of excellence in this strategic area.

(The) training of men using complex systems is at the heart of the matter. In this context, we can cite the example of the French Air Force CASPOA. As a training center for C2 officers, it is in fact NATO’s first French center of excellence in this strategic area.

Credit: DGA/com, 2010

LTO: Basilic Experimentation (DGA/com)

Regarding industries, we face a different problem. The development of complex networks requires skills of systems of systems’ architects.  Those rare specialists have to translate in technical terms the CONOPS described by the operations. To accomplish its mission, industry usually relies on a “Battle Lab”, private laboratory linked to a LTO (“laboratoire technico-opérationnel“, i.e. technical and operational laboratory) of the DGA (“Délégation générale de l’armement“, the MoD’s acquisition arm. The goal is to respond directly to the need by “transversal” work and not only in “series” following the classic pattern from the Cold War (by the rule: military feature sheet, invitation to tender and finally response from the industry). The new « in spiral » process thus combines operations, industries and weapons engineers on the same stage.  The DGA’s “Basilic” LTO dedicated to the army’s “Scorpion” program is a good example of this new integrated team work process. In the air field, the formation of a large State testing center of the “Air Warfare Center” (AWC) type where industries can make products available to operations while benefiting in return from feedback and maturing concepts is another interesting avenue to follow. Thus, Mont-de-Marsan’s Center for Military Air Experiments (CEAM) relies today on its definition, experimentation and validation center of the SCCOA (“CDEVS”) to shift towards an AWC type structure. A complex exercise (called ACTI) was done in this context at the CEAM last June.  It was supposed to allow Air Force pilots and controllers to model a daily use of the Link 16, without AWACS, using equipment made available by an industry specialized in tactical data links and simulation.  An example of the first tangible brick of a possible rise in power of the Mont-de-Marsan AWC.

In corollary, it raises however the sensitive issue of procurement.  Indeed, if the operations/ industries/ weapons engineers trio constitute the only solution to smartly developing complex systems of systems, it can also be, by design, that it will tend to depart by necessity from the procurement code.  In that case, could the industries make “unsolicited” offers to meet the complex operational needs while still respecting the market rules? It’s a lead. Are there more? In this area one should be first and foremost innovative and imaginative as our competitors do not refrain to do so.

As we have just shown, the subject is vast and touches on many aspects: political, operational, technical, organizational, and even ethical (we could have talked about network security and cyber warfare problems). Either way, one thing is clear: internet has changed our lives, and we don’t see why the reality of operations should escape from it. Specifically, it is already the case when we observe the technologies used by our state or non-state adversaries. The rational optimization of systems of systems is one of the answers to this reality. They will profoundly change our operational concepts, but their justification, ultimately, will always depend on their ability to still serve the soldiers who implement them. To have humans at the entrance and exit of any network process remains a major imperative.

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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