Network-centric plan highlighted in Defence's $50b capability budget

Australia’s Defence forces have officially signed on to the military doctrine of Network Centric Warfare, with the launch of its $50 billion, 10-year Defence Capability Plan (DCP) in Sydney today.

While the most conspicuous political outputs of the DCP are a heavy investment in a squadron of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and a recommitment to naval shipbuilding, all new Defence acquisitions now must have a network-centric capability built into them to even be considered for procurement.

Australia is known to have road-tested a variety of these platforms in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands to determine whether they could provide tangible strategic and tactical benefits.

Clearly, in the opinion of Defence’s top brass, they did; at no time were Australian forces either protagonists or recipients of ‘blue on blue’ – or friendly fire.

The task now ahead of Defence will be to integrate both new and current systems into a variety of specified and yet-to-be-developed platforms to achieve the new NCW (Network Centric Warfare) mandates.

The NCW doctrine is also expected to provide a mini boom of sorts for Australian IT professionals, developers and vendors. With Defence now fully committed to networking all its operational assets and platforms, one of the biggest tests ahead will be the massive amount of specialised systems integration required.

While some of this will undoubtedly come in the form of technology from the US, customization and localization is almost always performed by either Defence or locally contracted companies. One firm that will clearly benefit from the acquisition of the Global Hawk UAVs will be Canberra-based specialist video software developers Mediaware, which already exports interpretive software for the aircraft.

Defence department sources present at the launch confirmed that addressing the demand for IT skills that Defence will need to undertake such integration is currently front of mind. The source said such skills would probably be acquired through recruitment, cross training and contracting.

Other major investments that will require a heavy IT focus include an upgrade of Australia’s military intelligence collection capabilities and command and control systems. This includes: Replacement of the current Accredited Secure Intelligence Facility (ASIF), enhancement and protection of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), a Combined Information Environment infrastructure to exchange classified information and an overhaul of the Defence Force’s geospatial information infrastructure and services.

Asked if any of such integration work would ever be sent off shore, the source responded that it, in all reality already had been – in Iraq and the Solomons.

“We just used our people to do it,” the source said.

Chief of Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove spoke to Computerworld about what NCW will mean for the future

CW: How important is Network Centric Warfare in the context of the Defence Capability plan? General Peter Cosgrove: Network Centric Warfare is going to play a pivotal part in the battle-winning edge that all military forces will seek to create for themselves.

It provides information dominance across a spectrum of military operations so that force can be applied discriminately and surgically with a minimum of damage and with great speed.

CW: How important is it for a militarily small country like Australia?

Cosgrove: For a small but rich country like Australia, we should be able to selectively invest in technologies which mean that we have a greater guarantee that our high-tech platforms and weapons systems can engage and neutralise an enemy very quickly, and surgically, and thus resolve a conflict.

CW: What are the outputs of NCW in the capability plan, what will we be acquiring?

Cosgrove: It’s an intention to network our intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and command systems. [That is] to network them so that various new platforms can share information. Progressively that can be passed down to all tactical levels, even in the land force. You see that, and it’s probably not explicit in the Defence Capability Plan to platforms, but if that is the policy each platform that is brought in has to pass a test as to whether it will contribute to gathering this picture of information.

Then you go to specific weapons platforms that are going to be the beneficiaries of a networked information domain. The F35 (joint strike fighter), the AWAC (airborne early warning and control aircraft), the amphibious warfare destroyers, even the new amphibious ships will be hosts for what we hope will be a leading-edge information domain.

CW: Is it important to have an indigenous technology industry to supply that to the Australian Defence Force?

Cosgrove: We must have a vibrant local industry input into this in order to both tailor our information domains specifically to what we need for our environment. And also to provide a very strong competitive base from which the taxpayer can be sure Defence has received value for its dollar.

I always hope that whatever comes out of the Defence Capability Plan will create jobs for Australians. In the end it is for our industry to step forward and say ‘I want that project’.

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