Consortium Works on Network Interoperability

by Roy Mark

Defense contractors form group to develop open networks standards for military and first responders.

A new international group of defense contractors and systems integrators plans to accelerate increased interoperability in network systems that serve the military, first responders and, eventually, commercial users.

The first 28 members of the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC) met in Washington this week to announce it will work with stakeholders from governments, industry and academia to promote open standards, system engineering tools and commercial building blocks to promote network-centric operations.

"Today marks the beginning of an unprecedented collaboration," said Carol O'Berry, the chairman of the NCOIC executive council and Boeing vice president for strategic architecture. "I believe we are on the cusp of profoundly changing the way we use network technology today, in both the military and commercial marketplaces."

O'Berry said NCOs are an evolving set of principles based on network-centric warfare, including robust information sharing and shared situational awareness.

"There is immense potential ... in all [networks] operating as nodes on a common system," O'Berry said. "Current systems are seldom able to share information."

The NCOIC plans to periodically publish its findings and recommendations for a common network architecture and make them available in the public domain, although there are currently no established deadlines or milestones.

"The importance of this consortium lies in its ability to provide a unified approach that integrates everything through the last mile," said Paul Kaminsky, a former undersecretary of defense and chairman of the NCOIC's advisory council. "We've seen the power of the network grow by quantum leaps in the last decade, but we've been impeded by the lack of a common approach that enables our systems to network together as one."

According to officials at the Tuesday media briefing, industry officials first met in November 2003 to discuss an international consortium and formally organized the NCOIC in August.

"We [consortium members] all have a vested interest, as government customers are increasingly requesting network interoperability," said Gary O'Shaughnessy of Oracle . "We need to be working together instead of developing stovepipe products."

The NCOIC does not plan to develop new standards but, rather, review client requirements, evaluate those requirements and reconcile existing standards. Consortium members stressed Tuesday that the primary technical deliverable of the group will be the identification of existing and open standards.

"The guidelines we develop will be similar to building codes and standards," O'Shaughnessy said, adding that any deliverables developed by the consortium will be available to the public and subject to U.S. export controls. Those who want to "influence and participate" in the deliverables, however, must be members of the consortium.

Tom Darcy of EADS said everything developed by the consortium will be published in open source.

"There will be no proprietary technology," Darcy said. Other members of the group said the consortium would not perform any activity that is not open.

The consortium also deflected antitrust questions.

"It is vital to our collective security for all governments to acquire systems that can be interoperable," it said in a statement. "The NCOIC membership will each vigorously compete against one another for the areas of our competencies."

Added Janet Kopec of Raytheon, "Had many companies not collaborated 15 years ago and agreed upon the Internet protocol, then the establishment of the World Wide Web, as we know it today, might never have occurred. The NCOIC will lead the process of ensuring open, standards-based interoperability."

This article was originally published on Wednesday Sep 29th 2004