July 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 3 
Special Features

The big picture

Why network-centric operations are important to Boeing and its customers


The Big Picture By now, most Boeing people have run across the term network-centric operations and may know this much: It's about creating a network that links people, hardware and assets to enable the right information to get to the right people at the right time so that they can make the right decisions.

Military analysts and academics have identified network-centric operations as the wave of the future for the U.S. Department of Defense and for any defense contractor, such as Boeing, that wants to get its share of new business. There are also civil applications of NCO in areas like Air Traffic Management and Homeland Security.

The U.S. military and some segments of the business world have demonstrated that the essence of NCO-information superiority-does provide significant strategic advantage. But a true NCO environment is much more than basic networking.

It involves three components:

  • Sensors (cameras, systems, vehicles, even people) that pick up information;
  • Decision makers (commanders, field personnel, and one day, maybe machines) that take data from sensors and use it to make decisions;
  • Effectors (people or machines) that carry out actions.

In an NCO environment, all of these components would be linked by a super network somewhat like the World Wide Web.

But only somewhat.

Frequently, in an effort to explain network-centric operations, people refer to things that are around today that may be NCOlike (the Internet and networked e-mail available on cell phones, laptops or personal digital assistants). However, contemporary networks and the World Wide Web generally fall short of the real kind of network-centric operations that the U.S. Department of Defense wants-because the information you get today may be unreliable, out of date, tampered with or irrelevant to the situation you're in or the decisions you're about to make.

How close?

The desired future state of NCO, it would seem, is a long way off.

Or is it?

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems vice president and general manager of Future Combat Systems, believes that the first real-world application of network-centric operations is closer than many people realize. And, he asserts, the program he leads, working with its U.S. Army customer, will be the one to do it.

The goal of Muilenburg's team: Field the first networked "unit of action" by 2010 "to enable the soldier to see first, understand first, act first and finish decisively," he said.

FCS, a transformational program that will produce an integrated network of new weapons, communications systems and intelligence-gathering sensors for the U.S. Army, is on an ambitious schedule. The overall plan for the $15 billion system design and development phase calls for the completion of FCS software in six major builds over a six-year period.

In the end, Muilenburg said Boeing will deliver roughly 34 million lines of software-the biggest software effort the Army and the DoD have ever attempted-through a modular, open-architecture approach "that allows us to incrementally develop, test and validate software capability as we go."

By April of next year, the FCS team, led by Boeing as lead systems integrator partnered with Science Applications International Corp., plans to have ready a system-of-systems preliminary design for a U.S. Army unit of action that would consist of approximately 3,000 soldiers, 300 manned ground vehicles, 200 unmanned ground vehicles or robots of various classes designed to partner with soldiers, and 100 unmanned air vehicles of various classes. All elements will be connected electronically and have the ability to fight and sustain themselves as a single unified network. Under FCS, the Army plans to establish 15 such units of action overall.

FCS marks a "fundamental change" in the way Boeing develops and fields capability for its customers, Muilenburg said. First came a top-down network architecture; then, Boeing defined platforms, sensors, computers, weapons and other components as integral nodes on that network. "In the end," he said, "we will deliver and field a network, not individual platforms."


The FCS team is also developing a System-of-Systems Integration Lab (SoSIL)-a network of labs at Boeing, industry and U.S. Army facilities that will represent the network for the unit of action. The FCS team will use the SoSIL to validate FCS software and hardware in a multistep process of increasingly sophisticated and interactive simulations that eventually will involve real prototype vehicles and field tests.

As this is going on, Muilenburg asserted, "others will still be talking about NCO while FCS will be doing it."

And as FCS "does it," others in industry and within the DoD will be watching very closely to see how well the U.S. Army and the Boeing-SAIC-led team are able to "turn theory into reality," Muilenburg said.

That's because a lot of what Boeing brings to the area of network-centric operations will be on display in Future Combat Systems. That's particularly true of the Strategic Architecture Reference Model, which was developed by the Boeing IDS Strategic Architecture organization.

Often described as a set of guidelines similar to building codes, the SARM is a collection of standards and interfaces (predominantly commercial-off-the-shelf) that allow software developers to construct their own software to either create a network or enable systems and platforms to operate in a network.

The SARM is made up of four categories or layers:

  • information (gathering information)
  • communications (passing along information)
  • presentation (filtering information and showing it to users and operators)
  • application (taking action based on the information)

The Boeing Strategic Architecture organization is working with industry and government organizations to ensure that the information and communications layers of the SARM are open and available to both industry and government agencies.

The presentation and application layers are where unique capabilities are developed, and they belong to the companies that develop them. "Making the bottom two layers of the SARM open, compatible with other models and available to all is necessary to help build a global mobile networking infrastructure so that Boeing products can be fully effective in network-centric operations," said Carl O'Berry, Boeing IDS vice president of Strategic Architecture.

The FCS version of the SARM information layer is called System of Systems Common Operating Environment (SoSCOE). It consists of about a million lines of the 34 million lines of FCS software code. It provides a common toolkit for a family of services in which software developers can construct integrated and interoperable applications. And it's the core piece of how the FCS network will operate, Muilenburg said.

"The rest of the FCS software doesn't work unless SoSCOE works," he said. "All other applications plug in to SoSCOE. It will set the rules of engagement to help govern the network and ensure that the right information gets to the commander and the individual soldier, when they need it."


The development of SoSCOE will be essentially complete in the first four of the six software builds, with each succeeding build adding to the overall capabilities of FCS. The SoSCOE family of services will interface with other software applications such as battle management, command and control, logistics, training, unmanned systems and mission management. One of the information services will ensure interoperability-the ability of SoSCOE to talk to legacy platforms so that the platforms can operate with the FCS network to permit joint and coalition operations.

The network manager aspect of SoSCOE will be the "traffic cop" that will ensure that information is secure, reliable and up to date, and will enable participants to style their interfaces so that they get only the information they want or need.

If SoSCOE works as expected, it will represent what engineers call an "instantiation" of the information layer of the Boeing Strategic Architecture Reference Model. In other words, "another system could come along and say, 'I want to follow your reference model (the SARM).' That system may not be exactly like SoSCOE but would in fact interoperate with SoSCOE because they both will have been built from the same model," said John Harms, who leads Business Development for the Strategic Architecture organization.

And situations like that would put the U.S. Army, Boeing and the FCS team in a leading position in the world of NCO in terms of the openness and applicability of the SARM.

"Our competitors have their own reference models, but what distinguishes ours is that it's more of a clean sheet that is based on the need to accommodate the mobile, ad hoc environment our military customer operates in," said Mike Heinz, Boeing vice president of Integrated Defense Advanced Systems (IdeAS), a Phantom Works organization that's dedicated to winning new advanced systems programs for IDS.

"From the very beginning, we understood the importance of making [the SARM] open-and open means giving it away," Heinz said. "It puts us on the forefront in terms of interacting with customers and defining what is needed to accommodate their needs.


The development of the SARM and the ability to apply it on key DoD transformational programs, such as FCS, are among several reasons why Boeing is well-positioned to maintain leadership in the NCO world in the future, key Boeing executives said.

"One of our strengths is a consistent vision of the integrated battlespace," said Rick Baily, Boeing deputy vice president of IDeAS and leader of an NCO Technologies and Programs group within IDeAS. "With our expertise in systems engineering, our system-of-systems viewpoint and processes enable us to look at the big picture rather than being focused on any one particular aspect."

The Big Picture In addition to FCS, the company has won two other important transformational programs that will contribute to a future DoD network-centric operations environment-the Joint Tactical Radio System and the Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals (FAB-T).

The JTRS is a family of high-capacity tactical radios to provide dramatically improved line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight communications capability to U.S. warfighters. In June 2002, Boeing was named as prime system integrator of the contract to develop Cluster 1 of the JTRS, the first of several procurements for the system.

The JTRS family of tactical radios will cover an operating spectrum from 2 megahertz to 2 gigahertz initially and will be capable of transmitting voice, video and data. By building on a common, open architecture, the JTRS will provide the ability to share waveform software between radios, even radios in different physical domains. The JTRS also will be the DoD's first Software Communications Architecture-compliant software-defined radio, and will be the backbone for the transport layer in the FCS network.

"JTRS was a very important program for us to capture," said Don Winter, Boeing director of the Phantom Works Network-Centric Operations Thrust, a group that identifies and creates NCO technologies for internal customers like IDeAS, IDS and Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "JTRS has the potential of being essentially the network hub-it's the radio of radios. You talk about weaving a bunch of existing point-to-point communications links into one network. It takes a hub that can talk to all of them. The JTRS is going to be just that."

The Boeing-managed FAB-T program includes the design and development of wideband satellite communications terminals that will provide the U.S. military with critical protected communications. It's a U.S. Department of Defense initiative to develop a family of terminals (radio systems with specialpurpose antennas) that will use a common-design, open-system architecture (the Boeing-developed SARM) to talk to different satellites. The FAB-T will upgrade satellite communications to increase data capacity and speed up data transfer between airborne platforms and ground command posts.

"The JTRS and FAB-T programs are really going to define the communications formats and protocols for the future and be the backbone communications systems" for the network of the future, Heinz said.


As to that future, no one is able to predict for certain where the emphasis on NCO will take Boeing, industry, the customer community or society. But Boeing executives fully intend to have Boeing lead the way.

"To glimpse the future in the military, just look around you," Winter said. "You take for granted now, when you sit down at your terminal, that you have near-real-time access to almost any kind of information. We have offices full of PCs, Macs and workstations that are all interoperable. Where we're headed is for the warfighter to have that same capability in a deployed environment."

"Starting with the military services, where we want to go is to be able to offer our customers not just a stovepipe system, but a system that's fully network-enabled and is, therefore, more effective," Heinz said. "That perhaps will extend the life of current systems and put us in a better position for new systems. There's a great future for this-it'll be as revolutionary as the Internet."


Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
Copyright© Boeing. All rights reserved.