Many innovators have asserted that the US military must have networked forces to successfully conduct operations in the Information Age. This assertion is based on a general belief that traditional means of locating enemy forces, passing command and control information and amassing data for decisions will necessarily improve by the connection of dis-contiguous parts into a networked whole. There are now scores of networked concepts, including Network Centric Warfare (US Navy), the Future Combat System (US Army), the Dynamic Air Tasking Order (US Air Force), Sea Dragon (US Marine Corps) and Joint Vision 2020 (Joint Chiefs of Staff). These concepts contain elements that are themselves networked subsystems (indeed, much of the recent spate of military innovation began with talk of a System of Systems).
The notion of a networked force does not specify, in and of itself, how distributed information is to be shared between networked parts. However, in various suggested strategies for implementation of network concepts it is assumed that information can be gathered and coherently presented by a single system. Although there are many competing visions, they all share the main characteristics of the Common Relevant Operational Picture (CROP) concept. The CROP concept suggests that all the militarily relevant information about a battlespace can be collected in a single repository and displayed in a single presentation architecture that is available for and can be tuned to the preferences and scope of authority of individual commanders at all levels as well as individual soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors.
Since the purpose of the CROP is to collect sensory information and describe the military environment, whether or not it will successfully fulfill its promise is less a question of engineering design than it is a matter of system description. For most Information Age military contexts, the systems that must be described are complex systems. For the purpose of this discussion, a complex system is a system of interacting components whose collective behavior cannot be easily inferred from the behavior of the parts in isolation. Therefore, a scientific understanding of descriptions of complex systems is fundamental to successful development of concepts such as the CROP. Central to this scientific understanding is the notion of multiscale representations. Multiscale representations provide an analysis tool for the linkage of information and action. Multiscale representations treat information as an enabler of effective function and avoid the generic, universal information representation that, as will be discussed later, does not work in complex contexts.
The motivation behind military network concepts may be traced to the dramatic growth of networks in non-military contexts. There is, however, a difference between the military concepts and civilian practice. Civilian networks are often organically grown through distributed mechanisms and the information remains distributed and incoherent to unified presentation. Generally, the military concept of networks promotes a coherently and globally accessible system that is centrally conceived, centrally engineered, and centrally integrated. Similar attempts at central design in civilian contexts (such as the Microsoft Network), failed to generate the success of the inherently distributed network systems. Accelerating the growth of military information networks requires a much more systematic and fundamental understanding of the relationship between network structure and function.
Two directions for future work based upon this first stage project include: (1) the development of multiscale representation analysis of military contexts and the implications for force structure and information management and (2) the development of an organic growth "enlightened evolutionary engineering" strategy for military networks based upon extensive "mental gaming" of actual military contexts.