June 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 2 
Integrated Defense Systems

Something in the air


Imagine a single warfighter, unarmed and stranded in the desert, holding only a hand-held computer. He enters his location and waits a second or two for the answer: "Proceed east on foot for 600 meters and wait. A jeep from your unit is en route."

Knowledge like this is invaluable, especially in perilous conditions. But to achieve this capability, a warfighter needs a device with the inherent ability to tap into a network and obtain critical information—no more, no less—no matter the warfighter's location or uniform color.

Today Boeing, partnered with industry and customers, stands on the threshold of delivering this capability. The Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC), an international industry coalition initiated by Boeing, is helping make this possible. With membership doubling in its first nine months and international participation on the rise, the NCOIC's products will exponentially increase Boeing's own ability to deliver network-centric solutions. Such products have the inherent ability to operate on a global network, regardless of the item's manufacturer or operator. Reaching this pinnacle has required drive, creativity and, above all, domain expertise.

Carl O'Berry, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, joined Boeing nearly five years ago. He came to the company with the belief that what's described above could be accomplished. He knew that the power of the network could be harnessed and put to use more effectively if it could be shared in a global collaborative environment that removed the obstacles of incompatibility, specialized infrastructures, and "stovepiped" hardware and software in which systems function in isolation from surrounding systems.

Working with this vision, the Boeing team achieved two critical milestones. An engineering team was assembled and immediately started work on the Strategic Architecture Reference Model. When followed, this collection of products, standards and technologies will let every Boeing-built platform and system operate—and interoperate—on a global network. And, anticipating the difficulty in grasping the then-abstract concept of network-centric operations, a design team was charged to build two Boeing Integration Centers, where NCO concepts can be demonstrated. Today, responsibility for the BICs has passed to the Analysis, Modeling and Simulation organization. To date more than 25,000 people have visited the BICs in Anaheim, Calif., and Crystal City, Va.

Yet enabling Boeing to deliver network-centric solutions did not entirely address the issue. A solution from only Boeing failed to meet the objectives set forth by the U.S. military: deliver products that can operate on a single network, regardless of the item's manufacturer. Translation: deliver a Boeing Chinook helicopter capable of operating with a Northrop Grumman Virginia-class submarine and a Lockheed Martin F-117A Stealth Fighter, as well as other systems that may need to access the network.

Armed with 38 years of U.S. Air Force network experience, O'Berry had personally experienced the military's challenges in defining and establishing a product as a military standard. Ada, software originally thought to be pivotal to the future of military computing technology, had languished in governmental approval bureaucracies and was eventually made obsolete by advances in commercial industry.

With the U.S. military seeking industry assistance in evaluating emerging commercial technology, coupled with industry's motivation to develop profitable, advanced products, the Boeing team knew that industry could bring forth the best technical approach along with a commitment to follow it.

As Boeing's technical work advanced and momentum for NCO capabilities gained, discussions began with customers, partners and competitors about the need for industry to collaborate and agree upon a unified technical approach.

In November 2003, a group of 16 companies agreed to a formal meeting to discuss what this coalition might entail. Initial efforts focused on organizational structure, membership requirements, legal and export restrictions, management, accounting, and myriad other aspects similar to the startup of a new company.

Last summer, the NCOIC was incorporated as a nonprofit consortium. The group's mission is to bring the best of industry together to collaborate and recommend a standard technical approach that will enable all to deliver interoperable, network-centric systems. In September 2004, the member companies declared their support of an industry approach and committed their technical and business resources toward this important endeavor. Representing Boeing was O'Berry, who had recently been elected as the inaugural chairman of the Executive Council.

Today, approximately 250 people from 65 member companies worldwide are actively involved in the NCOIC. At the conclusion of O'Berry's one-year term as chairman of the Executive Council, the rotational leadership position passes to Lockheed Matrin. O'Berry will assume an emeritus role, able to continue to provide his leadership and vision for NCO to this organization as it works toward a singular objective: that no warfighter ever be alone.

For more information on the NCOIC, visit the consortium's Web site at http://www.ncoic.org.



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