Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report


7  NETWORK ENABLED CAPABILITY

144. Future Capabilities includes a scenario for a fictional operation in 2010 which is intended to illustrate the benefits of network enabled capability (NEC) to British forces.[156] In it a target is identified by an Army reconnaissance squadron. Information on it is relayed (using their Bowman radio system), via their unit and Brigade headquarters, to the Joint Forces Land Component Command (JFLCC) which diverts a Watchkeeper UAV to provide positive identification of the target. At the same time an ASTOR aircraft is also diverted to provide battlefield surveillance. A plan for engaging the target is worked out by JFLCC and Joint Forces Air Component Command (JFACC), communicating with each other through the Skynet 5 satellite system. Authorisation for an attack is obtained, again via Skynet (either from within theatre or from UK depending on rules of engagement). Then an E3D Sentry aircraft is directed by JFACC to re-task two Harrier GR9s, currently on standby in a holding pattern from a nearby carrier, to attack the target with Maverick missiles. Finally the Watchkeeper provides a battle damage assessment and confirms that the target has been destroyed. In all this takes a little over thirty minutes from when the target was first observed.

145. We asked Air Chief Marshal Stirrup whether this scenario was (a) achievable by 2010 and (b) fast enough. His answer was 'Yes and no'. His target was to bring the cycle from sensor to shooter described in the scenario down to 'a small number of minutes'.[157]

146. General Jackson described the acquisition of NEC as taking place over three phases:

    The initial phase is characterised by interconnection. In other words, things can connect one with another without difficulty. The transitional phase, the second, is integration—where you do better than that and you have the whole thing together. The mature phase is characterised by synchronisation—we are all informed, everywhere, everything. That is a conceptual approach.[158]

He believed that the initial phase was achievable by 2007; the transitional by 2015 and the mature phase some time 'beyond that'. Sir Jock's target must represent the second, if not the third, of those phases.

147. Both Air Chief Marshal Stirrup and General Jackson emphasised the complexity of NEC. Sir Jock described it as 'the totality of your military force rather than just the bit that connects the nodes,'[159] and Sir Mike told us:

    this is not an overnight wave of some magic wand. It is not the arrival of a gee-whizz black box: it is a very progressive programme, which depends on equipment which is just coming in now, and some yet to come in.[160]

Indeed of the network enabling equipment employed in the scenario in Future Capabilities, only the E3D Sentry aircraft are currently fully in service. The Bowman radio system is in the process of being introduced into the Army (see below). Skynet 5 was due to enter service in February 2005 but no announcement to confirm this had been made when we agreed this report on 2 March. According to the NAO's 2004 Major Projects Report, Watchkeeper is due to enter service in November 2006, and ASTOR in November 2005, although in respect of the latter programme, the contractor has encountered difficulties associated with the development of the radar and it is not clear what impact these will have on the in-service date.[161] And some of the other programmes supporting these capabilities may not be available for some years yet. Falcon, for example, which will provide secure communications at the operational level, has already had its in-service date slip from 2006 to 2007 and there are reports that it may be subject to further delays.

148. After years of delays and difficulties with the previous Bowman projects (Yeoman and Archer) the revised[162] Bowman achieved what the MoD called its 'ambitious' in-service date on 26 March 2004 'ahead of the target of 30 March'.[163] In-service, however, was defined as 'a Brigade Headquarters, two mechanised battalions and support troops capable of engaging in Operations Other than War (ie peacekeeping)'.[164] By February 2005 around ten per cent of the Army had been converted. The target for the end of 2005 is for one third of the Army to have converted. The total conversion programme is expected to last until at least the end of 2007.[165]

149. There have been regular press reports of difficulties with the introduction of Bowman. General Jackson told us in early November 2004 that there had been 'some teething problems with this first tranche of Bowman'.[166] In his judgement, some of these were practical problems to do with the programme's implementation, but others were technical.[167] In a recent memorandum MoD responded to a number of the reported problems and asserted, 'The Department, all three Services (but particularly the Army) and an extensive industrial base are all solidly behind the continuing programme to convert the Armed Forces to the Bowman system'.[168] We welcome the commitment of MoD and the Armed Forces to the successful introduction of Bowman. Recent operational experience has demonstrated the Army's need for a modern communications system. If MoD's ambitions for Network Enabled Capability are to realised, the effective and timely introduction of the programmes which will support NEC is essential.

150. But even the successful introduction of Bowman and of the other programmes highlighted in the scenario in Future Capabilities will only take British forces to the first of General Jackson's three levels of NEC. The scenario illustrates how the connectivity of currently planned equipment could be exploited. The next phase, to integrate organisations and systems, may prove to be significantly more challenging. It is striking that the scenario includes no communication directly between different services below headquarters level and it appears that land and air forces still need separate battlefield surveillance assets. Despite the efforts made to move to a more joint procurement process, the principal items of network enabling equipment due to become available in the next few years still seem to bear the hallmarks of single Service procurement. We recommend that MoD sets out in its response to this report how it plans to move from the connectivity of communication and surveillance programmes to their integration by 2015.

151. It is important to press on with the development of network enabling capabilities not only to increase the effectiveness of our Armed Forces but also to maintain the capacity to operate alongside the Americans. One of MoD's strategic goals is to be able to influence large scale US-led operations. It has judged that in order to do that it must be able to contribute capabilities which will add real weight to a US operation (see paragraphs 188-193 below). The US is devoting enormous resources to its objective of 'network centric warfare'. As we noted in our report on Delivering Security, the UK could not match those resources. Instead, as Air Chief Marshal Stirrup told us, MoD's objective was to 'point ahead and get to the same capability at the same time'.[169] In his evidence to this inquiry, he made the same point somewhat more graphically:

    Keeping up with the Americans presupposes that the Americans know where they are going and we just follow on a little bit behind. Actually that is not good enough and we need to be there at the same time as they do, so we have to try to predict where they are going to wind up so that we are in a position at that moment in time to be interoperable, but there is so much here that is new in terms of technological opportunity, in terms of the implications for doctrine, process and procedures that we are trying to track a moving target, a very rapidly moving target. That is the great challenge.[170]

In his view, the UK was doing well in this area—and was also doing well in keeping aligned with other allies—'the problem [was] one not so much of understanding, but one of determination and allocation of resources'.[171]

152. This assessment assumes that there is a common vision of what the ultimate goal of NEC is. But it is not clear that there is. Indeed General Jackson argued that, at least in the land environment, UK and US objectives were quite distinct:

    The language here is quite interesting. In the United States they call it "network-centric warfare". "Centric" is an interesting word there, is it not? That implies that the network is at the centre. Our view is somewhat different, because we do not quite see it that way.[172]

    At the end of the day, being an infantry officer… you have infantry soldiers at the point of decision. They will be at the centre, in that sense of decision-making. I believe our phrase, "network enabling", is absolutely right. Better, more sophisticated, and faster communications enable us to do things we have done before… but much more quickly, smoothly, securely, more easily.[173]

According to Future Capabilities NEC is 'at the heart' of the transformation of the UK's Armed Forces which it sets out. The enhanced capability which NEC will bring 'is about more than equipment; we will exploit the benefits to be obtained from transformed doctrine and training, and optimised command and control structures'.[174] If MoD is to exploit NEC both as a central element in the transformation of the Armed Forces and as a contribution to its strategic objective of bringing 'real weight' to large scale US-led operations, it will need not only to ensure that adequate resources continue to be devoted to it but also to develop a coherent and joint doctrinal framework, compatible with that of the United States, without which it will not be possible to realise the benefits of fully integrated NEC.


156   Cm 6269, p 6 Back

157   Q 193 Back

158   Q 263 Back

159   Q 194 Back

160   Q 264 Back

161   HC Deb, 26 October 2004, c 1206W Back

162   See Major Procurement Projects, Tenth Report from the Defence Committee of Session 1999-2000, HC 528, paras 41-59. Back

163   See HC (2003-04) 572-II, Ev 94 Back

164   HC (2003-04) 572-II, Ev 94 Back

165   Ev 176 Back

166   Q 262 Back

167   Q 271 Back

168   Ev 177 Back

169   HC (2003-04) 465-II, Q 257 Back

170   Q 195 Back

171   Q 195 Back

172   Q 269 Back

173   Q 270 Back

174   Cm 6269, p 5 Back


 
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