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Commercial Technologies Manage Navy Networking

May 2008
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. Navy communications specialist on an aircraft carrier monitors video channels, including satellite links. The Navy’s newest increment in its Automated Digital Network System, or ADNS, is employing new commercial technologies to permit more flexible bandwidth management for routing information on and off ship.
Better Internet communications adds to fleet connectivity.

The U.S. Navy is turning over the modernization of a shipboard network system to private industry to speed the introduction of new technologies and capabilities. The upgrades currently being introduced into the system help bring ship networks into the Web 2.0 era and provide the flexibility to accommodate more communications advances as they are incorporated into the fleet.

The Automated Digital Network System, or ADNS, is the key interface for managing network information on and off every Navy ship, explains Robert Wolborsky, Navy program manager for afloat networks, information assurance and enterprise services, in PEO C4I, PMW-160. By eliminating dedicated media circuits, the ADNS is allowing the Navy to move completely to Internet protocol (IP). “As we march into the information age, this is the key way of routing and transferring information on and off the ship as efficiently as possible,” he emphasizes.

Where the Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services (CANES) program modernizes shipboard local area networks (LANs), the ADNS is the tactical wide area network (WAN) for Navy ships. Operating in some form since the 1990s, it serves as the connection between the ship and shore networks. Architecturally speaking, ADNS equipment is sited between the ship’s radio room and its LANs. The system controls access from those LANs to the radios. On shore, the ADNS is between ashore switching networks and the radio rooms in network operations centers.

It has been implemented in three increments. Increment I, which began in 1997, combined IP traffic from different enclaves across a single radio frequency path. The system attained 13-percent efficiency, Wolborsky reports. Increment II improved routing efficiencies to provide increased bandwidth throughput to ships. Increment IIa added the ability to transport data beyond the previous limit of 2 megabits per second, and it enabled traffic flow over multiple satellite communication paths. It provided converged IP and achieved about 67-percent efficiency.

Increment III is taking those moves further, and it also is expanding the ability of the ADNS to perform non-satellite data transfer. These alternative pipes include high frequency (HF), HF IP with subnet relay, line-of-sight data relay and even 802.11 network extension functionalities. Wolborsky states that this increment will achieve nearly 100-percent efficiency.

All previous increments were developed and installed by the Navy. For Increment III, the Navy turned to General Dynamics to head a team developing the upgrades. This marked the first time that the Navy sought industry participation in running the ADNS effort, says Bill Rau, director of emerging business in the communications networks division of General Dynamics. He is the business unit manager over the company’s ADNS effort.

Turning to a private sector contractor to take control of the ADNS program offers the Navy several advantages. Cmdr. Alan Walters, USN, assistant program manager, ADNS, PMW-160, explains that this approach allows the government to leverage efforts by General Dynamics to build a better product than one done entirely in-house.

Wolborsky describes it as a shift toward greater industry involvement in the program. “There is more industry involvement and leadership in our engineering and development than in the past,” he says. “We still have a very strong government technical team to help our industry partners, but our government technical team isn’t defining every technical detail of the system and the architecture. We’ve delegated quite a bit of that to our industry partners to tackle.

“We want industry to bring to bear the strengths that it can to support the success of our programs, and we didn’t feel that the government managing every single technical aspect of this program to be the optimum path to succeeding on ADNS Increment III,” he concludes.

Rau relates that his company has been able to leverage investments already made in other programs, such as the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) system. Differences exist: The Army’s networking effort seeks to link many diverse points at the edge of the network, while the Navy connects platforms. However, the two services’ networks are similar enough that the company could adapt Army technologies for the Navy without redundant research and development spending.

“Solutions that we are bringing to bear into the Army market directly apply here,” says Bill Secher, ADNS program chief engineer, General Dynamics. “The Army has large command posts and individual on-the-move vehicles. The Navy has the same kind of problems—large aircraft carriers and small patrol boats that are very mobile with low bandwidth. The quality of service that ADNS adds becomes more important with lower bandwidth to make sure that high-priority users—on large and small ships—get the bandwidth they need to do the job.”

This approach also helps improve interoperability among Army, Navy and Air Force networks, particularly where Global Information Grid (GIG) requirements come into play. Among the technologies employed in the ADNS are Cisco routers—large units for ashore, smaller ones for ships—Packeteer specialized quality service equipment, Dell servers, and General Dynamics Taclanes along with WIN-T server software.

Cmdr. Walters notes that the program has been able to leverage some of that work for the other services into the ADNS, particularly in bandwidth optimization. Without that expertise, the program would have to start from ground zero for that improvement.

Wolborsky relates that the program has stood up an integrated planning team with the Air Force and the Army. This will help ensure that the services adopt the same standards needed to ensure interoperability. Foreign coalition partners also have been briefed at open fora on the system’s functionality and capability, and the program will provide them with technical details and standards when they move into the technology realm.

ADNS Increment III features several key improvements over the existing Increment IIa system. It supports everything over IP (EoIP) as well as IPv6, and it includes a ciphertext backbone, which is the black core that is mandated for participation in the GIG.

A Marine with a special operations battalion tests satellite communications equipment aboard an amphibious assault ship. Future ADNS increments may include a mobile capability that literally extends its functions into the field.
Cmdr. Walters adds that Increment III more than doubles the existing ADNS bandwidth capacity. It provides additional compression and includes a proxy service that allows users to increase throughput across the transport control protocol. “Anything we can do to improve how we support the precious and limited satellite bandwidth that the Navy receives is a resource well invested,” Wolborsky declares. “This is a critical area that we need to do better in.”

The ADNS manages the bandwidth and the use of radio channels from ship to shore. Ships, which are bandwidth-starved as are other military platforms, are more limited in their ability to increase it. They can add more satellite terminals, but this is an expensive and long-term proposition, Rau points out. Currently, the near-term solution is to use existing assets more efficiently.

Rau relates that earlier ship systems supported IP networks that included serial connections amid various systems all multiplexed together and connected over radio links. Increment II added more IP traffic capability including a phone gateway function, but Increment III moves well beyond that. Even the phone systems, which had been twisted pair serial lines, are traveling over IP.

By providing EoIP, Increment III allows more control over accessing pipes—satellite or radio—according to established ship priorities. This also increases flexibility in pipe usage. Previously, different functions were allocated specific bandwidth amounts. If one function was not using its allocation, that allotment went unused and was wasted. Ships also might have several security enclaves, with larger vessels having a wider range, and each of those enclaves would possess its own guaranteed fixed bandwidth.

But Increment III allows flexibility. Managers can allocate bandwidth on the basis of quantitative need or mission priority. This becomes especially valuable as new systems lead to more meshed networks.

Rau allows that this is a bit of a challenge in a black core network, in which traditional technologies do not apply. The black core architecture requirement is mandated to protect a GIG network from edge users. It cryptographically isolates user traffic from the network backbone. Managing quality of service on a black core network also can be difficult, as a manager cannot see the traffic passing through, Rau offers.

Secher notes that this requirement is unique to the military and is lacking in commercial routers. The company is implementing new technology from the WIN-T program to meet that challenge. All user traffic from the LANs is Type 1 encrypted using Type 1 high-assurance IP encryptors.

A key element of Increment III is the network management software, known as ADNS NetOps. This is the tool that allows managers to configure the system to use bandwidth. Engineers have reused software code from existing systems wherever possible to maintain continuity. Future iterations will allow a captain or even a sailor to reconfigure communications dynamically, Rau says.

For example, a Navy ship on a maritime domain awareness operation might be directed to intercept a suspect cargo vessel. Where that ship normally might have command and control as its top traffic priority, vessel interdiction will require rapid transfer of high-volume intelligence data. The Navy ship’s commander would be able to reconfigure the communications to shift traffic priority to that urgent intelligence traffic.

While focusing on better use of existing assets, the ADNS also can accommodate more or larger pipes. It permits higher bandwidth connectivity, so the Navy can proceed with more terminals and more satellite links for shipborne communications. Increment III can handle 25 megabits per second, and it could reach up to 50 megabits or beyond.

Coordinating with the joint networks and incoming programs is a challenge. Many of these programs are on different timelines. Rau points out that the Navy alone has several programs that will encompass traffic that passes through the ADNS. Absent an overarching network management capability, engineers must anticipate network needs across programs.

Because the system is composed mostly of commercial off-the-shelf technologies, it can be upgraded relatively easily. Secher explains that the program is using standard commercial routing and telephony protocols. The company will be able to update them through its configuration management.

As new programs for expanding bandwidth come online over the next few years, the ADNS will be able to expand to meet those new capabilities. Where initial requirements called for supporting 50 megabits per second from a large ship to shore—and 25 megabits per second from a smaller ship—the ADNS system should be able to accommodate as much as 440 megabits per second, which is a requirement for future communications system programs underway. When these systems are deployed, the ADNS will be easily upgradeable to meet their capabilities.

Wolborsky offers that this increased throughput may be the most important improvement introduced by the newest ADNS increment. When new bandwidth demands appear, the ADNS will not be a bottleneck.

And equipment upgrades are not the only improvement that the ADNS will be able to accommodate. Sailors entering the Navy now are more likely to employ information technology capabilities in their lifestyles, and these sailors bring both expertise and desire to improve the fleet information system arena. Wolborsky predicts that they will ply their craft to the ever-increasing benefit of the Navy, and the ADNS will contribute to providing these millennium sailors with the type of technology environment in which they can flourish.

The program currently is winding down its development stage. The company already has delivered two ship racks—large and small—along with two ashore demonstration systems that can be upgraded to support more ships. It has passed its operational assessment, and it should reach its Milestone C decision in June. With approval, low-rate production would begin in July, and shipboard installation could begin by the end of the year. Full-rate production would begin in mid to late 2009.

Wolborsky relates that planners are beginning to consider the next generation of the ADNS. Increment IV would build on new technologies that may find their way onto shipboard LANs. Cmdr. Walters offers that a preliminary assessment of Increment IV has it focusing on the tactical edge network. The existing network would be extended further onto more platforms such as smaller aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The result would be a more mobile network in which air assets would depart the network in one location and rejoin it in another. The network would be able to adjust to having a fast-moving node changing its configuration. And, of course, it will feature increased bandwidth. This in turn would change the way the Navy passes data and how it reacts to that data, the commander adds.