Military Transformation Pioneer Arthur Cebrowski Dies at 63

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Arthur K. Cebrowski, the retired U.S. Navy vice admiral who served as the Defense Department’s first force transformation chief, died Nov. 12 after a bout with cancer. He was 63.

Cebrowski was director of the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation (OFT) from October 2001 until his abrupt retirement this past January on doctor’s orders.

The OFT was established by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to serve as a catalyst for change within the U.S. military.

Cebrowski is perhaps best known in the defense establishment for articulating and advancing the concept of network-centric warfare, which holds that information and the ability to share it are critical advantages in modern military operations.

In the space community he also is known for championing the use of inexpensive small satellites that can be launched on short notice to support urgent tactical military requirements.

To test the concept Cebrowski initiated a series of missions involving small experimental satellites, called TacSats. These satellites are to be tasked by military commanders in the field, who today rely on satellites over which they have no control and for which there are numerous strategic, intelligence customers.

The first TacSat, which is funded by the OFT and carries a modestly capable imaging sensor and a radio-signal identification payload, is expected to launch aboard Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 1 rocket in early 2006. The Pentagon has plans to launch at least three additional TacSat experiments.

TacSat is intended to pave the way for satellites that could be built and launched for about $15 million apiece, Cebrowski said in an October 2003 interview. In that interview, Cebrowski also expressed hope that small-satellite efforts like TacSat would stimulate the market for low-cost launchers like the Falcon 1.

Space News recognized Cebrowski for ushering in the TacSat effort in August, including him among the “10 Who Made a Difference in Space,” which singles out individuals for their contributions to the space enterprise. TacSat also has been praised by members of Congress who deal with space programs and are largely disappointed with the military’s space acquisition work in recent years.

Cebrowski, a native of Passaic, N.J., graduated from Villanova University in Pennsylvania in 1964, and entered the Navy that same year. Trained as a naval aviator, he experienced combat in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, and commanded the USS Midway aircraft carrier and the USS America Battle Group.

He served as president of the Naval War College before retiring after 37 years of uniformed service to become the first OFT director. It was during his tenure at the Naval War College that Cebrowski helped advance concepts such as network-centric warfare and small warships that have since evolved into the Littoral Combat Ship, a top Navy acquisition priority.

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a think tank here, said the military sees few intellectuals of Cebrowski’s caliber in each generation.

“I think what really made him special was that he had a framework that wasn’t grounded in the values of his home service or contemporary culture,” Thompson said. “He was really willing to look beyond preconceptions and prejudices.”

Cebrowski is survived by his wife Karen; daughters Kristen Niro and Julie Clark; parents John and Helen; brother John; sister Carol; and seven grandchildren.