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Navy Charts Communications Path

December 2006
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

 
Aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, sailors use computers to access the Internet in the ship’s library. Vice Adm. Mark J. Edwards, USN, deputy chief of naval operations for communication networks, says he is dedicated to providing communications and collaboration capabilities to sailors at sea.
Admiral has big plans for improving networks and information technology business.

The U.S. Navy has affirmed its dedication to improving communications networks aboard ship and ashore by reinstating the position of deputy chief of naval operations for communication networks (N-6) on the staff of the chief of naval operations. The vice admiral tapped to fill the position plans to consolidate systems, reallocate funds and help the Navy deliver on the promises it makes to its sailors.

Vice Adm. Mark J. Edwards, USN, who assumed the N-6 position in July, explains that the Navy recognized a need for warfare networks and communications and information technology representation in Washington, D.C. In this chief of naval operations staff position, Adm. Edwards is tasked with generating new requirements and advocating for fleet requirements as well as fulfilling a governance role.

The admiral wears two hats, carrying out the duties of the N-6 and serving as the deputy department chief information officer (CIO). As the N-6, he is responsible for planning as well as ensuring resources for all Navy networks afloat and ashore. As deputy department CIO, he focuses on governance issues and business information technology. Despite his dual positions, Adm. Edwards has one clear-cut aim. “The goal is to deliver affordable and relevant network information capabilities to the Navy,” he says. “And it’s not just the Navy, but naval forces. It’s Navy and Marine Corps, and it has to be done in a timely manner.”

The admiral plans to advance the implementation of network centric operations first by defining exactly what that term means so the Navy can make good investments to improve network centricity afloat and ashore.  In the next three to four months, Adm. Edwards intends to reduce legacy networks and to transfer as much of that technology as possible to the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI). By doing so, he can apply the funding spent on those systems toward other necessary programs. The more the Navy reduces current legacy and information technology infrastructure, the more money it will have to create a more robust NMCI. The admiral calls this the legacy network reduction effort. “And I also call it the CTM—capture the money,” he says.

The Navy can capture additional money from its communications networks by putting more emphasis on enterprise solutions. By establishing contacts with industry, all naval programs can buy equipment under the same contracts, increasing purchasing power and procuring better deals. The admiral explains that he wants to establish agreements with companies guaranteeing them a certain amount of business across the Navy and in turn receive better rates on products. “I can beat the price always if I do it on an enterprise level,” he states.

The admiral uses the example of portals to illustrate his point. The Navy has approximately 58 Web portals, each of which requires money, applications and personnel. By consolidating down to three or fewer portals as subsets of the larger portals and making those accessible to everyone, the Navy reduces manpower and cost. In addition, the Navy can maintain and standardize better content. All the content can be reviewed to ensure both that it is accurate from a governance standpoint and that restricted information, such as social security numbers, is not accessible.

Adm. Edwards anticipates several places where the captured money will be spent, including global maritime partnering initiatives. The Navy realizes the United States will rely more on its partners in upcoming operations. “This coalition and interagency interoperability is going to get more play and more focus,” the admiral says. “And we’re just working out how we do this not only with our partner nations that we have historically operated with but also in areas that we want to influence. How do we operate with navies that we haven’t partnered with in a number of years, or ever? We want to provide the means and the networks and the information technology infrastructure to be able to do that.”

The Navy’s Sea Warrior program—initiated by Vice Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., USN—focuses on helping sailors at shore and at sea collaborate more effectively with the Bureau of Personnel, in addition to educating them and keeping them informed while at sea. “We’re in a people business, and my job is to take Adm. Harvey’s vision and then provide the linkage to connect those sailors to the areas they need to be connected to in order to be effective,” Adm. Edwards says. “That’s another one of the things we’re going to work very, very hard to do.”

The N-6 also is concerned with making more efficient use of limited bandwidth. Sailors are disadvantaged users because at sea they have only wireless communications architecture. “You’re not hooked up to the telephone line or the T1 line,” Adm. Edwards shares. “You don’t have cable coming into your house.” To overcome the problem, sailors have to use bandwidth judicially. The admiral expects to see more investment in router systems and other tools for compressing data, which he describes as critical for moving information on and off ship. Sailors need reliable methods to communicate with other service members, to receive orders and to complete course work. The admiral is dedicated to giving sailors the opportunity to continue their education while on duty. “We want to link our sailors to (educational institutions) so while they’re at sea they will be able to continue their education and not—when they’re doing the most to serve their country—be disadvantaged by the lack of linkages available to them,” he explains. “This is a covenant that we have and one that we’re going to deliver.”

In addition to compression techniques, allocation of bandwidth helps ease congestion. Ships have specific amounts of bandwidth for use at certain times of the day. “The way you time bringing information on and off the ship can determine use of bandwidth and the dynamic use of bandwidth, and you can even it out so everything is not trying to go out at one time,” Adm. Edwards states.

Another area that has earned the attention of the N-6 is satellite communications including maintaining channels for mobile warfighters. The Navy is the U.S. Defense Department executive agent for ultrahigh frequency satellite communications. “That’s a very important part of our portfolio,” the admiral states.

An additional challenge for the Navy arises from acquisitions. Often a program or system has a five- to six-year delivery cycle. With technology advancing at an ever more rapid pace, the admiral is examining how the Navy can align the acquisition and technology cycles so the service has the latest network technology.

Adm. Edwards believes that industry can play a greater role in Navy networks, whether by helping the service overcome challenges or by meeting other requirements. The biggest change he would like to see is one echoed by leaders around the military—open architecture. The admiral envisions an open architecture system in which hardware and software are disconnected from one another, allowing small and large companies to compete with their ideas and technologies without having to put large amounts of money and resources into middleware. When individuals buy printers, they receive a disk that allows them to connect the printers to computers because of a set of established standards. If printers required programmers to install unique software to match the computers, the process would be cost prohibitive for the average buyer. “We run into that every day,” Adm. Edwards explains.

By striving for open standards, industry and military create a more competitive environment in which the best ideas and technologies earn their way into Navy systems, lowering costs and improving the warfighting capability of the fleet.

Industry already is helping the Navy with its bandwidth challenge. Over the years, industry and the Navy have been able to use more information packets and compression techniques to move bits of data, and more techniques are being developed. Navy and industry personnel are working on the protocol and priority of data, as well as technology.

 
Sonar Technician 1st Class Scott Harstad, USN, uses a satellite telephone to establish communications with detachment headquarters after establishing a camp for Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Eight, Detachment Four.
Improving communication networks will help the Navy in its most immediate mission—fighting the Global War on Terrorism. Adm. Edwards says the focus of the Navy is to make sea lines of communication open, to interdict terrorists at sea and to prevent sea piracy. The Navy also tries to reduce stress on the U.S. Army and Marine Corps by providing troops of its own. Adm. Edwards is focusing on using networks to contribute to the war on terrorism. He believes communication systems can make a big difference with coalition partners. By exchanging data via       e-mail instead of in person, difficulty with understanding accents is avoided and the United States and its partners can share the common operational picture. “I think it’s our contribution, and it’s the way that we’re able to command and control coalition formations of ships—and those formations are all over the world operating today,” the admiral states.

In addition to working with coalition partners, the admiral says the Navy has many ways to serve its own warfighters and its joint partners. “I think as far as being a good joint partner, you’ve got to understand where the joint force is going and really understand how the Navy fits into that,” he shares. He continues that to achieve joint solutions, the services have to forgo some autonomy and the branches of the military have to examine what works best for the whole, not just the individual service. He returns to his example of enterprise solutions and Web portals in explaining that rolling up all the portals under the Defense Department would achieve even more savings. “You have to look at ways of doing that and not be so parochial that you’re just focusing on the Navy at the expense of your other partners,” he says.

Looking toward the future, Adm. Edwards believes the concept of the Maritime Headquarters (MHQ) will fundamentally change the way the Navy fights at an operational level of war and the way in which the Navy shares information and uses collaboration tools. Referred to as Maritime Headquarters with Maritime Operations Centers (MHQ/MOCs), nine will be resident in the Navy’s three-star headquarters along with fleet commanders and component commanders. “I’m a big believer in this, and I’m going to do my best at this level here to support the fleet from a programmatic standpoint in a way to make MHQ with MOC a reality,” he says.

He also plans to use his position to reinstitute information technology governance at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. “I think that once people understand what is expected of them, they will comply with it, and we will make sure that we have an ability to go over and make sure the checks and balances are there,” Adm. Edwards says. The Navy has personnel working to ensure that the sea service has the right networks in place and funded and that the fleet has the right information technology and business systems. 

The admiral acknowledges that despite all the changes and improvements he has planned with the reinstatement of the N-6 position, many of the Navy’s communications technologies are working well. He touts the Cooperative Engagement Capability—a high-speed datalink—deployed on Aegis surface combatants and planned for use on surveillance aircraft. The system nets platforms with sensors, providing refined tracking of sophisticated targets. Connecting the networks creates a substantial increase in the Navy’s ability to detect and track targets and use weapons accuracy data to improve weapons solutions.

Adm. Edwards also shares that broadband terrestrial satellite communications systems are providing unprecedented ability for forces afloat and ashore to exchange information and to collaborate not only within the Navy but also with other services and agencies. In addition, systems such as NMCI and Automated Digital Network are progressing well according to the admiral.

 

Web Resources
N-6 Communications Networks: www.nmciinfo.usmc.mil/nmci2/nmci.nsf/HomePage?openform
Navy/Marine Corps Intranet: www.msc.navy.mil/n6/nmci
U.S. Navy: www.navy.mil