U.S. Navy Covers the Oceans With Technology

June 2006
By Rita Boland

Navy warfighters will benefit from programs such as agent-based computing, which coalesces large amounts of data, sorts through it then delivers warnings, answers or smart searches to the operator.
Sailors are looking to turn data into knowledge and communicate over a wider area.

Warfighting technologies are improving the way the maritime branch of the U.S. Defense Department gathers information and intelligence as well as how the sea service uses these technologies to make operational decisions. With fresh initiatives and electronics, personnel on ships and at land-based operations centers will be able to identify changes and irregularities, allowing warfighters to focus on fewer targets and to share communications over a more dispersed area.

The U.S. Navy is looking at ways to collect and send communications and to share intelligence over greater distances more quickly. According to Vice Adm. Mark P. Fitzgerald, USN, commander, Second Fleet, a major project for the Navy is to gather information and intelligence and find a way to turn that gathered data into knowledge the sailors can use.

To fulfill that requirement, the Navy has several technologies coming down the pipeline, including agent-based computing. This technique coalesces large amounts of data, sorts through it and then delivers warnings, answers or smart searches to the human operator. “Right now there’s so much data out there that’s just that—data,” Adm. Fitzgerald says. “It doesn’t become knowledge because it’s too dispersed. In order for us to be able to use that, it’s got to be rapidly sorted through and quickly presented to the operator.”

In essence, what the Navy is looking for is a high-level search program similar to Google or other online database services. However, instead of typing in a query and receiving thousands of returns, the sailors would submit their queries and receive the program’s best guess to the correct answer. “The bottom line is the ability to get in there and electronically sort through in a smart way, looking for keywords, looking for triggers, and then flashing that onto the   computer,” the admiral states.

Installing such a system for the Navy at-large would save the fleet time pursuing false targets. Using agent-based computing, sailors would choose the ship of interest in the computer program and receive the known information—such as cargo and ports of call—on that vessel. By stretching that application to all ships traveling the seas and by obtaining the information in real time, sailors can determine the normal flow of sea traffic and identify abnormalities. Sailors could then focus their attention on these ships.

Though ships may not be equipped with these types of programs yet, the Navy is planning for future technologies by preparing space in its vessels for them now. Designers leave some areas with electricity and air conditioning empty so that they can be filled eventually with emerging technologies.

In addition to initiatives such as agent-based computing, the service is focusing on technology to network its platforms and ground forces. Networking ships, aircraft and ground bases enables the Navy to engage targets that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. For example, a Navy   helicopter would take off from a ship, locate a target and send that information to the ship. The ship then could fire a munition such as a Tomahawk missile at the objective although the crew cannot see the target.

Along those lines, the service is working on a program called maritime dynamic targeting—the ability to put a weapon on target rapidly. To pursue that aim, the Navy is participating in the U.S. Air Force-directed Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment. In that event, a Navy Global Hawk is being used in the maritimes to identify a sea-based target and then quickly put a weapon on that target.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as the Global Hawk are another technology of interest to the Navy. Adm. Fitzgerald describes the three levels of UAVs: strategic, operational and tactical. Troops on land or on ships control tactical UAVs, which travel only a short distance from their takeoff point and provide surveillance of a local area. Operational-level UAVs can launch from an aircraft carrier, supply intelligence and dispense firepower over an entire operational theater. The strategic-level UAV can provide broad area maritime surveillance, or BAMS. With BAMS, the military can view an entire theater and the maritime domain. “That would give you the ability to search thousands of miles vice the 50 to 100 miles you might get out of a tactical UAV,” Adm. Fitzgerald says.

UAVs and agent-based computing fit into the Navy’s plans for maritime domain awareness, which is the effective knowledge of all activities associated with the global maritime environment that could impact the security, safety, economy or environment of the United States. Other entities such as the U.S. Coast Guard also are exploring the concept (SIGNAL Magazine, February 2005). According to the admiral, for the Navy to obtain that awareness it must use its technology to meld different pieces of information.

“In order to properly use the maritimes you have to be able to figure out not only where everybody is but also what’s changed, what’s different,” he states. “So information operations plays a big role in that. The other piece is how you measure it. You measure that through your ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] sensors.”

Three pieces—what, where and measures—form the common operational picture. The Navy performs this combination by converting its fleet commands into maritime operations centers from which it directs warfighting at theater-level capability. The Navy currently has five centers at Second Fleet, Third Fleet, Fifth Fleet, Sixth Fleet and Seventh Fleet. By linking the maritime operations centers, the Navy can monitor the sea globally and can increase the service’s ability to fulfill its maritime domain awareness requirements.

Another major technological tool in the Navy’s maritime domain awareness mission is the automatic identification system (AIS). “This is doing on the seas what identification friend or foe transponders did in the air, meaning that every ship over 300 gross tons has to have one of these so we’re able to see where all these large ships are, which helps us in building maritime domain awareness,” Adm. Fitzgerald says. The service is installing the tool on ships and aircraft now.

Advances in Navy technologies will help sailors identify changes in maritime commerce patterns, reducing the number of targets by singling out breaks and changes in the patterns.
To use the information from tools such as the AIS and to bring that information into command and control centers, the Navy is fielding the newest version of the Global Command and Control System, GCCS 4.0. “It’s more than just a software upgrade; it’s pretty much a new way of doing business,” Adm. Fitzgerald explains.

As the Navy integrates all these technologies and software into the fleet, force structure is changing. During conflicts such as the Cold War, the service relied on manpower; it now relies on education and training. While this transformation reduces the number of sailors necessary to carry out a mission, those wearing the uniform are higher ranked and more educated than their predecessors, the admiral notes.

This force also is dealing with a much different enemy from the one the Navy faced in the Cold War, he adds. The United States now faces asymmetric, transnational threats in addition to threats from enemy states. The Navy’s transformation helps the service keep terrorists at bay overseas and supports the U.S. Northern Command in protecting homeland shores. The sea service also monitors threats from several parts of the world from the main theaters in the global war on terrorism to threats in the Pacific theater such as Korea.

“In the Koreas, that is a maritime peninsula and so in order for us to get troops there or to reinforce, they have to come over the seas,” Adm. Fitzgerald explains. “While the fight has shifted to the global war on terrorism, we also need to maintain the capability to do those kinds of contingency operations, and it is not that we want to fight them, but you have to have presence and you have to have the forces so you’re a credible deterrent.”

One way the Navy remains credible is by using technology advances to perform conventional operations in a disaggregated fashion. Instead of using the traditional battle group formation with the ships steaming closely together, ships now can spread out over a large area of ocean and maintain communication and information sharing. The ships in various locations create a synergy through FORCEnet, which improves the Navy’s ability to focus on a wide view of the maritime domain, the admiral points out.

The Navy is looking to enhance the FORCEnet concept in several ways including by using bandwidth more effectively or obtaining more bandwidth in some cases. Currently, bandwidth is carved into pieces with each piece dedicated for a specific purpose such as unclassified e-mail or videoconferences. The Navy wants to change the arrangement to make better use of available bandwidth. “We have some systems coming online that look at multiplexing all of that together so that you don’t have to have all of that bandwidth allocated; you can actually just mix it all together,” Adm. Fitzgerald says. “We’ve shown that that saves almost 75 percent of the bandwidth.”

The problem with a multiplex system is that everyone on the network has to work at the level of the user with the lowest clearance. “What we want is the capability to have everybody work on the same Internet and have the ability to have different security levels assigned so that everybody can operate on the same net but at different levels,” the admiral notes. Ideally, the Navy and those with whom it works will share information across the various networks by securing the information, not the actual networks, he adds.

As the Navy works to integrate, adapt and secure its many current and burgeoning technologies, it is making its structures more intelligence-centric to carry out all its missions. The service also is enabling its platforms to integrate with the “thousand ship navy.” In this project, the U.S. Navy will work with coalition partners to take advantage of their capabilities and their abilities to police their own homelands.

The many projects, initiatives and technologies of the service offer opportunities for private industry. According to Adm. Fitzgerald, the Navy is looking for innovation and nonproprietary solutions from business. It wants shareable solutions that it can easily adapt and more cost-effective ways to conduct business. “I think those are the things that are the Holy Grail,” he states.

The admiral sees the Navy and industry teaming in areas such as real-time collaboration and the ability to move information seamlessly and quickly. “As best we can come to common architectures, common standards, and that use innovation on those, that’s where we really get synergy with industry,” he says.


Web Resources
U.S. Navy Second Fleet: www.secondfleet.navy.mil
Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment: www.jefx06-nsi.com
FORCEnet: http://forcenet.navy.mil


Enjoyed this article? SUBSCRIBE NOW to keep the content flowing.