The technological advancements and innovations have fast-tracked after the 1970s. These advancements not only took place in the defence and aerospace departments but have also fuelled developments in the civilian sector and vice versa. These innovations have drastically changed the world and are supported by examples such as cassette tapes being transformed to CDs and DVDs, fixed telephones to mobile phones and later to smartphones along with many other examples in line. In the same way, the military also expanded its canvas - unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), driverless vehicles, Wearable technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) and most importantly Cyber technology. The way the internet was widely adopted for several major tasks in every sector portrayed that major technological advancements were incomplete without the use of the internet. Realising the importance of the internet in different tasks eventually gave birth to a new concept called Network-Centric Warfare (NCW) or Network-Centric Operations (NCO). This is a military doctrine initiated in the 1990s by the United States Department of Defence (DoD). According to RAND, NCW is the linking of platforms into one shared awareness network in order to obtain information superiority, get inside the opponent’s decision cycle, and end the conflict quickly. This means that by the advent of NCW, one can exchange information, create situational awareness and can also help in making quick decisions in a short span and with that it makes them able to take quick actions in response to any attack.

Now that certain important innovations have managed to spread their wings worldwide. The new paradigm as mentioned earlier not only helped in data collection and its transmission but also the extraction of useful information for Intelligence purpose is made easy and trendy. Not only this but the decision making, and dissemination of information were all relied upon this newly emerged concept known as network-centric warfare, by using advanced weaponry which was appropriate in the respective platforms. NCW was required for the tight integration and networking of different sensors, command, and control (C2), failsafe transverse communication media and in the tactical units as well as platforms such as air, naval and land, quite akin to Metcalfe’s Law, which is applicable to any network. This networking is required to achieve certain important information such as situational awareness in a highly mobile environment, perfect synchronization between sensors and shooters for effective response.

Having said that, in practice, these concepts were tested and examined in Iraq and Afghanistan where two separate operations were carried out in two different countries at different years in the name of ongoing War on Terror at that time. The two operations were separately named as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Iraq (Gulf War II). These campaigns straddling against resolute, compelling foes in Afghanistan and Iraq, were characterized by the conduct of highly effective, network-centric operations by coalitions organized and led by the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM). The elements of USCENTCOM during Operation Enduring Freedom proved vivacious to the defeat of Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. During the operation, Special Operations Forces (SOF) teams were employed on the ground along with Afghan allies by the USCENTCOM. These SOF elements were networked with other friendly forces on the ground and U.S. aircraft capable of delivering advanced precision-guided munitions. This way, the most anticipated combination of networking weapons platforms with sensors platforms proved effective. Since the targets of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda during the operation were often transitory and while in the air, weapons platforms had to be quickly updated. So, B-2 and B-1 bombers and Carrier-based aircraft flying from their respective bases required a mission-tasking enrooted to the target area in Afghanistan. For the near-real-time battlefield situational awareness, Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were used to a greater degree than ever before to pass the gathered information to the ground commanders. This way the previously non-attainable networking capability was made achievable due to the associated technologies and satellite communications.

After the completion of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001-2002. The U.S. had gradually build-up to the war in Iraq in the year 2003. It required and allowed careful planning and positioning to provide the necessary technologies and systems that enabled commanders to conduct high speed, non-contiguous NCO and, when necessary, to change plans as rapidly as the situation required. The rapid sharing of information and the ability to move intelligence from a sensor either directly to a shooter or an analytical decision-maker was all due to the technology in place. It was that time when the concept of network-centric warfare was legalised and the need for communications, command, and control (C2), and Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems to be hooked up to, and interoperable with, the Global Information Grid (GID) was made and to be acquiescent to whatsoever conditions are on the battleground. These are the two examples where network-centric operations were implemented and were proved beneficial in terms of their mission’s success.

In a nutshell, network-centric operations are in practice for more than a decade and its operationalization and implementation in both the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have made a significant impact on the nature of warfare. Because in the future the lone indispensable contributor to combat power will be the network. As it is predicted that the ones who have achieved information superiority, will be the ones who are considered to be the victors of future battles. Combat power is enhanced by networking a force and it reduces the probability of clanger in various ways. NCW cannot be considered as a substitute to bombs and missiles, however, it enhances the effect of bombs and missiles by attacking the enemy at the right moment. Since Pakistan has always relied on Western powers for military hardware and even for a tactical approach. So, it is recommended for Pakistan to take frequent measures to reduce the dependency factor and enhance her cyber capabilities. As without being technologically advanced, it is hard to compete in the outside world and to strengthen security in the cyber age. And also, to train her armed forces for smooth use of technology for the successful implementation of NCW whenever required in a conflict or even to deter enemies either on the regional or international level.

The author holds an M.Phil degree in Defence and Strategic Studies. She can be reached Mubeen.0727@gmail.com