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Naval forces do not have to be engaged in constant centralized communication.  Deployed Navy vessels have demonstrated independence of action within coordinated operations for hundreds of years. 

Littoral operations, unmanned systems, and single-purpose ships pose a growing set of naval challenges and opportunities.  Network-optional warfare (NOW) can be achieved through efficient communications, signaling stealth, and deliberate tactical messaging.

Network-Optional Warfare (NOW)

  • Vulnerabilities arise for naval forces conducting constant communications due to lack of stealth and dependence on continuous data exchange.
  • "Radio silence" emissions control (Agile EMCON) and judicious use of low-probability of intercept (LPI) communications can restore naval covertness and tactical surprise.
  • Data compression and a coherently defined signal book can enable fluid operations across NCW and NOW, aiding remote command initiative and operational freedom of action.

Network-Centric Warfare (NCW)

  • “Seeks to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by information technology, into a competitive advantage through the robust networking of well-informed geographically dispersed forces.”
  • “This networking—combined with changes in technology, organization, processes, and people—may allow new forms of organizational behavior.”
  • Source:  Network-Centric Warfare, Wikipedia

Operational View (OV-1) shows line-of-sight (LOS) optical signaling via Quick Reaction (QR) codes and Digital Flashing Light (DFL).

Only two radio frequency (RF) lightning bolts!

Technology enablers of interest include Efficient Messaging, Optical Signaling, and Semantic Coherence, three long-running areas of composable research work.

Overview Resources for NOW

These references describe tactical techniques, operational concepts, and strategic possibilities that emerge when regaining asymmetric advantages.

Tactical Opportunities afforded by NOW

  • Stealth:  gain deeper access into battle space, utilize inherent covertness of unmanned systems.

  • Surprise:  choose time and place to shift from passive to active use of electromagnetic spectrum.

  • Coherence: formal mission brevity codes are actionable and precise with well-defined semantics.

  • Uncertainty: reduced opponent confidence that threats are located and attack is unchallenged.

  • Flexibility:  tactical commanders decide use of NCW/NOW on per-platform, per-mission basis.

  • Scalability:  incremental response using low-cost assets avoids destabilizing high-cost escalation.

  • Autonomy: loosely coordinated command via Rules of Operation (ROO) and Engagement (ROE).
  • Cyber: smaller surface area exposed to attacks employing EM radiation or network connectivity.


Don Brutzman, voice +1.831.656.2149

Official disclaimer 

"Material contained herein is made available for the purpose of peer review and discussion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense."

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