Network Enabled Operations – NEOps
© 2004 FrontLine Defence (Vol 1, No 2)

Network Enabled Operations (NEOps) is an information superiority-enabled concept of operations that generates increased combat power by networking sensors, decision makers and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and a degree of self-synchronization. It is called Network Centric Warfare in the U.S., and Network Enabled Capabilities in the U.K. It is a concept that is central to the transformation of defence and security organizations to respond to the new security environment.

The development of NEOps can be placed in the broad context of the interplay between new technological possibilities and the requirements of users of technology. The progress in information and communications technology at the summit of the current technology cycle coincides with the increasing need for information superiority in joint and combined operations. The rapidly evolving information and communications technologies are expected to render the greatest change potential within the next 30 years. Networking of systems will become the dominant factor of future military systems, corresponding to the capability needs of future forces.

A robustly networked force will greatly improve information sharing, allowing decentralized and dispersed forces to more efficiently communicate, manoeuvre and conduct non-contiguous operations. It will enable sharing of common awareness (and understanding) of both the battlespace and the commander’s intent. Greatly enhanced peer-to-peer interactions and a rich array of connectivity will increase agility and innovative low-level problem solving abilities through shared lessons-learned and best practices. In the NEOps Force, command, control, interoperability and agility all have important qualitative and quantitative differences relative to “traditional” forces. NEOps makes self-synchronisation possible and represents perhaps the ultimate in achieving increased tempo and responsiveness. A high level of trust is required and the forces involved must, at least have exercised together. The multinational special operations forces that cooperated successfully in Afghanistan are examples of this model.

Canada recently led an effort to establish a coordinated R&D strategy for NEOps among the five The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) countries (Canada, UK, USA, Australia, and New Zealand). A comprehensive list of R&D requirements were produced in each of the four domains of military activity (Physical, Information, Cognitive and Social) and in areas that cut across these domains. The most comprehensive challenges were found in the cognitive and social domains, illustrating the fact that NEOps is critically dependent on people for its effectiveness.

Eight high-priority R&D issues were identified:

  •     Understanding NEOps decision-making at all levels;
  •     NEOps Concept Development and Experimentation;
  •     Operational situational awareness (intelligence, sensors, fusion, etc);
  •     Countermeasures and counter-countermeasures, from components to systems;
  •     Information/data management;.
  •     Network connectivity, including bandwidth management;
  •     Autonomous, self-organising sensors – novel capabilities that exploit NEOps; and
  •     Network-enabled lethal and non-lethal weapons, and information operations.

The development of fully capable NEOps forces is a work in progress that requires R&D, and integration of science & technology with doctrine and organization. Among the issues that need to be addressed are:

  •     The security, robustness, trustworthiness and protection of wide-bandwidth networks;
  •     Information overload, especially for key decision makers; The potential entanglement of command and control, including the potential for commanders to engage in micromanagement; and
  •     To what extent can NEOps lift the “fog of war”?

Education and training will need to take place to ensure that the NEOps tools are used properly while “overly enthusiastic” NEOps supporters must temper their claims and understand that certainty or even near-certainty in war is seldom or never possible.

To educate, demonstrate and develop recommendations to implement NEOps concepts, National Defence is planning a Symposium for the late Fall 2004 on Network Enabled Operations: The Canadian Forces Responding to the New Security Environment. The Symposium will bring together the key players in the defence and security arena, both nationally and internationally. A NEOps discussion paper is now being developed that will form the basis of discussions at the Symposium, leading to NEOps Roadmap for Canada. This Roadmap will feature an integrated Canadian Defence, Security Partners, Academic and Industrial NEOps way ahead.

Dr. John Bovenkamp, Defence Scientist, Defence R&D Canada
Dr. Ingar Moen, Director Science & Technology Policy, Defence R&D Canada
© FrontLine Defence 2004