COALITION INTEROPERABILITY IN A NETWORK CENTRIC WORLD
By Jonathan Hudson
Northrop Grumman Information Technology Europe
The importance of interoperability in a warfighting environment has never been greater than today, where joint, coalition and multinational operations are the norm rather than the exception. Whilst interoperability can be considered on many levels, the ultimate goal for the warfighter is that information exchanged is complete, timely and fully understood by all the parties involved.
Today, nations are considering migrating their COE based architectures to a Network Centric environment. The introduction of new methods of data distribution and data access, typically a combination of ‘push’, ‘pull’ and ‘publish and subscribe’, together with the use of web services will greatly enhance both the range of data available to the warfighter and the options for delivering that data. A foundation of this migration to Network Centric Warfare is an architecture that has increased reliance upon commercial methodologies for distributing data objects across an enterprise rather than traditional military messaging, either point-to-point or broadcast.
This paper considers the challenges that face those developing interoperable C4I systems through the example of the migration of the United States DII COE into Network Centric Enterprise Services (NCES). The paper discusses the vision of NCES and how the proposed architecture of NCES might evolve to provide the capability to deliver data across the enterprise.
Interoperability can be defined at a number of levels, from ‘bits and bytes’ at the lowest level right up to common understanding and decision making by warfighters at the highest. Even though systems that can exchange information at the lowest level can be considered interoperable, if the data exchanged cannot be interpreted by the receiving system then the value of that interoperability is limited. To achieve effective interoperability, systems must provide interoperability at all levels including that between the people operating and using those systems – so called ‘brain-to brain’ interoperability.
There is a range of factors that affect interoperability between systems and include:
• Hardware incompatibilities;
• Use of different messaging standards and communications protocols;
• Use of different versions of protocols and standards;
• Different interpretation or implementation of standards;
• Use of different algorithms in the applications that process and present information to the user;
• Differences in language, culture, education, doctrine and training between users.
C4I systems and infrastructures are key elements in providing interoperability to the warfighter and are affected by all of these factors.
The systems integrator and agencies responsible for the procurement of C4I software must be aware of the issues facing the warfighter. In addition, they have to consider factors affecting the design and implementation of systems, including:
• Ever increasing volumes of data, and demands for access to data. Data sources and formats may not be constant;
• Available bandwidth does not increase at the some rate as the demand for data. New services such as streaming video or VOIP (Voice over IP) create a demand for greater bandwidth that requires careful management;
• Cost and functionality requirements mandate the use of COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf) technology where ever practical;
• Commercial technology moves faster than the military procurement cycle;
• The “user experience” may be less satisfying (and less productive) than the user experiences at home, where the user can search for a product on the Internet, check availability, price and delivery options and place a order using a single application. Can the military user do the equivalent, “How many widgets are available within 200KM of my location, what delivery options are there, I need 200 by midday tomo