Boeing has softened its once-strident stance on the need to establish standards for networking protocols across the US and global defence industry.

In 2004, the company spearheaded the creation of the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium to create a body of standards for defence and aerospace firms. Four years later, those standards still do not exist, but now Boeing believes they may not be necessary.

A set of common networking standards would allow Boeing to link into, say, Lockheed Martin's simulation centres, with certain security restrictions. This would allow each company to create more realistic simulations, since more than only Boeing aircraft and systems could be modelled with a high degree of fidelity.

It was also thought that network standards were needed to prevent the industry from developing products in the real world that could not communicate or network with products made by a different company.

But several more years of experience in network operations have changed Boeing's thinking in two significant ways.

First, vice-president Guy Higgins, who leads Boeing's Advanced Systems analysis, modelling, simulation and experimentation group, believes that he can create "good-enough" models of his competitors' products using open source information to meet the objectives of most simulations.

Second, Higgins believes that conventional wisdom about networks has changed since 2004. Previous thinking was guided by Metcalfe's Law, which postulated that a network's value increases in proportion to the square of its number of nodes. More networking experts, however, are challenging this view, arguing that the value added by a network's density is not nearly as great as previously believed.

"Most of the time we just need to be accurate, and by accurate it just needs to be about right," Higgins says. "It doesn't need to be precise."

Since 2002, the US defence industry has stood up vast modelling and simulation networks, including the Boeing Integration Center, Lockheed's Center for Innovation Lighthouse and Northrop Grumman's Cyber Warfare Integration Network.

Their purpose is to provide a service to military weapons buyers and internal decision-makers, exposing the strengths and weaknesses of new technologies and operational concepts in the digital world.

Boeing is continuing to dramatically expand its network of modelling and simulation centres. It last year opened a facility dubbed "The Portal" at Farnborough, Hampshire, under a teaming agreement with the UK's Qinetiq, and during September plans to open a 700m² (7,500ft²) facility in Suffolk, Virginia. New modelling and simulation capabilities will be opened in South Korea in 2009, even as the company expands similar efforts in India and Japan.


Source: Flight International