A Tomahawk cruise missile is en route to its pre-programmed target, terrain-following through hostile territory. As the missile crests a ridge, it briefly registers with the coalition network. Software managing the network recognises the weapon, and realises target priorities have changed since it was launched. New coordinates and images are routed from an unmanned air vehicle to the missile, which changes course. High above, a fighter pilot refuelling from an orbiting tanker is unaware his aircraft has acted as the relay for the entire transaction.

This is just one of Carl O'Berry's many visions of network-centric operations. Hired by Boeing to develop a strategic architecture that would ensure all the company's products are interoperable, O'Berry is also the inaugural executive chairman of the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC), established in August last year to agree a common framework for interoperability in a global network environment.

The NCOIC's goal is to select and promulgate standards and tools that enable network-centric capability to be embedded in the "DNA" of every product. "We want to guarantee that everything produced has embedded in it the latent capability to be a node in a global network," says O'Berry. "Ultimately, we will build things so that every single element has an IP [Internet Protocol] address."

Starting with IP Version 6 as the bedrock, the NCOIC's goal is to agree a "building code" that guarantees a minimum level of interoperability. The international consortium of aerospace defence and information technology companies is working to integrate "existing and emerging o pen standards into a common evolving global framework" that will include tools to assess how well candidate network-centric architectures meet interoperability requirements.

Architectures are usually visualised as tiered, from the IP transport layer at the bottom to the human-machine interface at the top (see P35). The NCOIC is leaving the applications layers alone and focusing on the lower communication and information management stacks, which O'Berry compares to the silicon substrate used in all integrated circuits. "Companies get their competitive advantage on the application side, not the silicon side. The framework for NCO is analogous. We need to step completely out of that level, move up to applications and all use the same base substrate," he says.

"Mission applications – that's where we want to compete," says Doug Barton, director, network-centric programmes, Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Solutions. "The competitive space has really changed," he says. "It used to be that requirements were defined, embodied in a specification and any of those requirements became fair game for a competitive edge. Now we have to compete by offering a solution using elements developed in collaboration."

Raytheon underlines this with its vision of a future "system of elements" interdependence that goes beyond system-of-systems interoperability. "Interdependence is each service seamlessy using sister service, agency or ally assets," says Tom Flynn, director, strategic initiatives. This is achieved by giving each element of every system its own IP address so it is directly accessible via the network.

"You can build any weapon system with five elements: sensors, effectors, command and control, communications and platforms," says Flynn.

"With a system of elements you can build a virtual kill chain by linking together sensors, communications and effectors on different platforms." Platforms will become more versatile, Raytheon argues, because they can bring more to the fight.

"The F/A-22 will bring not just bombs, but sensors, command and control and communications to the battlefield," he says.

This echoes another of O'Berry's network-centric visions, of event-oriented, self-organising networks that form when and where needed, activating dormant nodes and accessing data from any sensor in the proximity, building a kill chain then disbanding after the event, releasing bandwidth for reuse by the rest of the network.


Source: Flight International