By U.S. Army CCDC Army Research Laboratory Public AffairsDecember 13, 2019
ADELPHI, Md. -- After a decade-long run of facilitating novel research in support of the future warfighter, the Army's Network Science Collaborative Technology Alliance is coming to a close.
Collaborative Technology and Research Alliances are partnerships between Army laboratories and centers, private industry and academia that are focusing on the rapid transition of innovative technologies to the warfighter to enable the Army's future force.
The motivation for forming the NSCTA in 2009 was the National Research Council report on Network Science (2005), which stated: "The fundamental components of a network are its structure (nodes and links) and its dynamics, which together specify the network's properties (functions and behaviors)."
The report's overarching conclusions were that networks have a pervasive influence in all aspects of life, the fundamental knowledge to predict the properties of networks is primitive, research is fragmented with disciplinary stovepipes and a cross-cutting science of networks is critical.
Leading the way for the NSCTA was the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory, the Army's corporate laboratory.
• Raytheon BBN Technologies (Lead)
• City University of New York
• Northeastern University
• Pennsylvania State University
• Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
• University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign
• University of Southern California
• University of California Davis
• University of California Santa Barbara
• Carnegie Mellon University
• Cornell University
• Northwestern University
• Notre Dame
• Purdue University
• University of Massachusetts at Amherst
• University of California Riverside
• University of Maryland
• University of Delaware
• Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The objectives of the NSCTA were to create knowledge and a fundamental understanding of interdependency, relations and common underlying science among social-cognitive, information and communication networks; determine how processes in one network affect and are affected by those in other networks; and develop approaches to prediction and control or influencing of the behaviors of these complex interacting networks.
"Communication, social and information networks have a pervasive influence on all aspects of life," said Dr. Brian Rivera, chief of CCDC ARL's Network Science Division. "The Army is increasingly reliant on social, information and communications networks to effectively conduct operations. However, we really did not understand how these different types of networks interacted with and influenced one another when we started the NSCTA program. The NSCTA was critical to developing the fundamental science needed to understand these interactions."
The program in its latter stages focused on three primary technical thrusts: Co-Evolving Dynamic Inter-Genre Networks, Information Processing across Networks for Decision-Making and Quality of Information for Semantically-Adaptive Networks.
Co-evolution and Dynamics of Inter-genre Networks, or Co-EDIN, focused on foundational science for modeling, understanding, predicting, controlling and optimally designing co-evolving inter-genre networks, both friendly and adversarial.
Information Processing Across Networks for Decision-Making, or IPAN, dealt with information discovery, analysis and visualization over multi-genre networks to improve effectiveness in distributed decision making.
Quality of Information for Semantically-Adaptive Networks, or Q-o-I-SAN, focused on measuring, predicting and adapting composite networks to deliver the most valuable information with dynamically changing network resources, rather than the most bits, or queries.
"The NSCTA established the science that looks at networks in a distributed and broad way, which is important for the Army as Multi-Domain Operations, or MDO, is looking for a consolidated approach to warfighting," said NSCTA collaborative alliance manager Greg Cirincione. "You have to be able to understand networks quickly and in a distributed manner to be effective in a military environment."
For example, Cirincione stated, artificial intelligence is a blossoming field, and for the Army to continue to learn in a dynamic environment, you need to understand the networks behind it.
The MDO concept includes the electromagnetic spectrum and information environment as well as the five domains to include air, land, sea, space and cyberspace, and NSCTA researchers said that what connects these domains is networks: people, things, telecommunication, etc. The technology coming out of the NSCTA is necessary for all of those things to be able to communicate effectively and for Soldiers to maintain situational awareness.
"Network science is a critical enabler for making sure that MDO can occur for the Army," Cirincione said. "From sensors to technology for ballistics and even long-range precision fire, you have to understand the communications network and how it interacts with people and machines."
According to the researchers, NSCTA foundational research benefits anyone making critical decisions based on complex, heterogeneous, geographically-dispersed information sources supported by unreliable and congested networks, including warfighters, disaster relief responders, emergency services and security monitors.
"The NSCTA advanced key technical concepts that are important for enabling future Army warfighting concepts including information-aware networking to maximize relevant information delivery, information analytics to improve distributed mission command, and foundational network modeling techniques to understand the evolution of friendly and adversary networks," said ARL computer scientist and NSCTA member Lisa Scott.
An integral part of the NSCTA was the collaborative environment that the program fostered.
"The NSCTA is also about the people who came together to help solve tough network science challenges," Cirincione said. "Network science is a complicated science, and one that no single subject matter expert could tackle on their own in their own space. At the beginning of this program and before it was even established, the researchers were not speaking the same technical language, and the NSCTA changed that for the better. The NSCTA has evolved not only the research, but the way the research is communicated both internally among the researchers and to the external communities as a whole."
ARL's Dr. Michael Frame added to this by stating that the success of the NSCTA lies not only in researchers involved, but the physical spaces in which the collaboration was able to occur.
"The "generation" of doctoral students who have worked on fundamental research projects motivated by Army-relevant challenges is a definite legacy for this program," Frame said. "ARL researchers worked alongside these students, industry and academic partners, which ensured that in-house foundational research and experimentation was well-aligned with the extramural effort. In addition, the establishment of ARL's Network Science Research Laboratory under the lab's Open Campus business model served as an experimentation and collaboration hub for NSCTA researchers, which has truly been a game-changer for how the lab collaborates with partner organizations."
While the NSCTA may be ending, its legacy does not.
"Along with the innovative technical impact of the Army's NSCTA, the program resulted in the establishment of the field of network science, a professional society, development of numerous publications, collaborations, mentoring opportunities, conferences, training, awards and academic programs that form the foundation of the network science community," Cirincione said. "The legacy of the NSCTA lies not only within these programs, publications and opportunities that it has fostered and enabled, but in the impact the research has on the Future Army Warfighting Concepts and concept development."
According to Cirincione, the NSCTA provided significant technical leadership by establishing the NetSci Society as a worldwide scientific forum for the advancement of network science, which is having significant impact through scientific conferences, training workshops, prestigious technical awards, a new scientific journal, new doctoral programs, and a network literacy program that targets middle and high school education.
The NetSci Society (see Related Links below) was established by researchers in the NSCTA, including the founding president, Dr. Albert-Laszio Barabasi, the current president, Dr. Raissa D'Souza and numerous board members including the Army senior research scientist in network science, ARL's Dr. Ananthram Swami.
"The NSCTA legacy is that it has defined the fundamental research directions for multigenre networks, interdependent networks and the control of complex networks," Rivera said. "More broadly, the NSCTA has helped establish and shape the field of network science."
The CCDC Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army's corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our Nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.