|November 13, 2004
Pentagon Envisioning a Costly Internet for War
By TIM WEINER
The Pentagon is building its own Internet, the military's world wide web
for the wars of the future.
The goal is to give all American commanders and troops a moving picture of
all foreign enemies and threats - "a God's-eye view" of battle.
This "Internet in the sky," Peter Teets, under secretary of the Air Force,
told Congress, would allow "marines in a Humvee, in a faraway land, in the
middle of a rainstorm, to open up their laptops, request imagery" from a
spy satellite, and "get it downloaded within seconds."
The Pentagon calls the secure network the Global Information Grid, or GIG.
Conceived six years ago, its first connections were laid six weeks ago. It
may take two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars to build the new
war net and its components.
Skeptics say the costs are staggering and the technological hurdles huge.
Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet and a Pentagon consultant on
the war net, said he wondered if the military's dream was realistic. "I
want to make sure what we realize is vision and not hallucination," Mr.
"This is sort of like Star Wars, where the policy was, 'Let's go out and
build this system,' and technology lagged far behind,'' he said. "There's
nothing wrong with having ambitious goals. You just need to temper them
with physics and reality."
Advocates say networked computers will be the most powerful weapon in the
American arsenal. Fusing weapons, secret intelligence and soldiers in a
global network - what they call net-centric warfare - will, they say,
change the military in the way the Internet has changed business and
"Possibly the single most transforming thing in our force,'' Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said, "will not be a weapons system, but
a set of interconnections."
The American military, built to fight nations and armies, now faces
stateless enemies without jets, tanks, ships or central headquarters.
Sending secret intelligence and stratagems instantly to soldiers in battle
would, in theory, make the military a faster, fiercer force against a
Robert J. Stevens, chief executive of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the
nation's biggest military contractor, said he envisioned a "highly secure
Internet in which military and intelligence activities are fused," shaping
21st-century warfare in the way that nuclear weapons shaped the cold war.
Every member of the military would have "a picture of the battle space, a
God's-eye view," he said. "And that's real power."
Pentagon traditionalists, however, ask if net-centric warfare is nothing
more than an expensive fad. They point to the street fighting in Falluja
and Baghdad, saying firepower and armor still mean more than fiber optic
cables and wireless connections.
But the biggest challenge in building a war net may be the military
bureaucracy. For decades, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have built
their own weapons and traditions. A network, advocates say, would cut
through those old ways.
The ideals of this new warfare are driving many of the Pentagon's spending
plans for the next 10 to 15 years. Some costs are secret, but billions
have already been spent.
Providing the connections to run the war net will cost at least $24
billion over the next five years - more than the cost, in today's dollars,
of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Beyond that, encrypting
data will be a $5 billion project.
Hundreds of thousands of new radios are likely to cost $25 billion.
Satellite systems for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and
communications will be tens of billions more. The Army's program for a war
net alone has a $120 billion price tag.
Over all, Pentagon documents suggest, $200 billion or more may go for the
war net's hardware and software in the next decade or so. "The question is
one of cost and technology," said John Hamre, a former deputy secretary of
defense, now president of the Center for Strategic and International
Studies in Washington.
"We want to know all things at all times everywhere in the world? Fine,"
Mr. Hamre said. "Do we know what this staring, all-seeing eye is that
we're going to put in space is? Hell, no."
The military wants to know "everything of interest to us, all the time,"
in the words of Steven A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for
intelligence. He has told Congress that military intelligence - including
secret satellite surveillance covering most of the earth - will be posted
on the war net and shared with troops.
John Garing, strategic planning director at the Defense Information
Security Agency, now starting to build the war net, said: "The essence of
net-centric warfare is our ability to deploy a war-fighting force
anywhere, anytime. Information technology is the key to that."
Military contractors - and information-technology creators not usually
associated with weapons systems - formed a consortium to develop the war
net on Sept. 28. The group includes an A-list of military contractors and
technology powerhouses: Boeing; Cisco Systems; Factiva, a joint venture of
Dow Jones and Reuters; General Dynamics; Hewlett-Packard; Honeywell;
I.B.M.; Lockheed Martin; Microsoft; Northrop Grumman; Oracle; Raytheon;
and Sun Microsystems. They are working to weave weapons, intelligence and
communications into a seamless web.
The Pentagon has tried this twice before.
Its Worldwide Military Command and Control System, built in the 1960's,
often failed in crises. A $25 billion successor, Milstar, was completed in
2003 after two decades of work. Pentagon officials say it is already
outdated: more switchboard than server, more dial-up than broadband, it
cannot support 21st-century technology.
The Pentagon's scientists and engineers, starting four decades ago,
invented the systems that became the Internet. Throughout the cold war,
their computer power ran far ahead of the rest of the world.
Then the world eclipsed them. The nation's military and intelligence
services started falling behind when the Internet exploded onto the
commercial scene a decade ago. The war net is "an attempt to catch up,"
Mr. Cerf said.
It has been slowly evolving for at least six years. In 1999, Pentagon
officials told Congress that "this monumental task will span a
quarter-century or more." This year, the vision gained focus, and Pentagon
officials started explaining it in some detail to Congress.
Its scope was described in July by the Government Accountability Office,
the watchdog agency for Congress.
Many new multibillion-dollar weapons and satellites are "critically
dependent on the future network," the agency reported. "Despite enormous
challenges and risks - many of which have not been successfully overcome
in smaller-scale efforts" like missile defense, "the Pentagon is depending
on the GIG to enable a fundamental transformation in the way military
operations are conducted."
According to Art Cebrowski, director of the Pentagon's Office of Force
Transformation, "What we are really talking about is a new theory of war."
Linton Wells II, the chief information officer at the Defense Department,
said net-centric principles were becoming "the center of gravity" for war
"The tenets are broadly accepted throughout the Defense Department," said
Mr. Wells, who directs the Office of Networks and Information Integration.
"Senior leadership can articulate them. We still have a way to go in terms
of why we should spend X billion dollars on a certain program. In the
fight between widgets and digits, widgets tend to win."
He said $24 billion would be spent in the next five years to build new war
net connections. "No doubt these are expensive," Mr. Wells said.
"Technology developments always are."
Advocates acknowledge that weaving American military and intelligence
services into a unified system is a huge challenge.
The military is filled with "tribal representatives behind tribal
workstations interpreting tribal hieroglyphics," in the words of Gen. John
Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff. "What if the machines talked to each
other?" he asked.
That is the vision of the new web: war machines with a common language for
all military forces, instantly emitting encyclopedias of lethal
information against all enemies.
To realize this vision, the military must solve a persistent problem. It
all boils down to bandwidth.
Bandwidth measures how much data can flow between electronic devices. Too
little for civilians means a Web page takes forever to load. Too little
for soldiers means the war net will not work.
The bandwidth requirements seem bottomless. The military will need 40 or
50 times what it used at the height of the Iraq war last year, a Rand
Corporation study estimates - enough to give front-line soldiers bandwidth
equal to downloading three feature-length movies a second.
The Congressional Research Service said the Army, despite plans to spend
$20 billion on the problem, may wind up with a tenth of the bandwidth it
needs. The Army, in its "lessons learned" report from Iraq, published in
May, said "there will probably never be enough resources to establish a
complete and functioning network of communications, sensors, and systems
everywhere in the world."
The bottleneck is already great. In Iraq, front-line commanders and troops
fight frequent software freezes. "To make net-centric warfare a reality,"
said Tony Montemarano, the Defense Information Security Agency's bandwidth
expansion chief, "we will have to precipitously enhance bandwidth."
The military must also change its own culture.
For decades, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have built separate
weapons, radios, frequencies and traditions. They guard their "rice
bowls" - their turf - from rival services.
But Mr. Rumsfeld's vision depends on interoperability: warfare using all
four services in joint operations.
In a net-centric world, "you would not have a Army, Navy, Air Force and
Marines," but a unified force, said William Owens, a former vice chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
For the Pentagon's visionaries, Mr. Montemarano said, "the single biggest
obstacle is a cultural one.''
"Breaking these rice bowls - that's a huge job."
© 2004 New York Times