Command Swells With New Responsibilities

December 2007
By Maryann Lawlor
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The Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM) Maritime Operations Center monitors all of the U.S. Navy’s networks worldwide and supports the command’s information operations mission.
From protecting the networks to doling out intelligence, Network Warfare Command virtually sails alongside ships, submarines and aircraft.

In the cell phone business, it’s all about the network, but in the military world, it’s about the information that rides on that network. The type commander in charge of the U.S. Navy’s networks set sail a mere five years ago, but in that short period of time, its mission has grown and shifted with equal emphasis on the security of the systems and the intelligence they carry. Along the way, the command has picked up a few new responsibilities, including becoming the primary authority to ensure the homogeneity of the service’s communications systems.

Taking the Navy’s networking system to this new level is Vice Adm. H. Denby Starling II, USN, who assumed command of the Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM), Norfolk, Virginia, in June. Adm. Starling characterizes 2007 at NETWARCOM as a year of transitions. Although many of the changes occurred over the past several years, including the command’s assumption of the Naval Security Group (NSG) and the Naval Network and Space Operations Command (NNSOC) (SIGNAL Magazine, December 2006), even more changes are underway. One of the admiral’s primary goals is to ensure that everyone in the Navy understands how NETWARCOM can support the traditional platforms in the service.

“We are slowly but surely getting our tentacles out into other areas of the fleet. In the past, the commanders probably would have looked to a platform type commander for help. More and more they look to us,” Adm. Starling says. “Now the piece that I think we need to really round off the picture is to focus one more step down the chain in the type commander role to get a better view of what’s going on in our ships, squadrons and aircraft every day in the fleet in C4I [command, control, communications, computers and intelligence], potential conflict and networks.

“I tell folks we are not Verizon. Verizon will tell you, ‘It’s the network.’ What I like to say about NETWARCOM is that we’re more than just the networks. It’s about information. I think it is about how you collect, how you parse and how you distribute information to commanders so that they can make smart decisions inside the enemy’s decision cycle, whoever the enemy happens to be,” he states.

One of the challenges that NETWARCOM faces is that naval C4I and networks popped up without a formal structure to guide the growth, the admiral says. Each Navy organization bought its own systems and built its own infrastructure. Even though in some cases the networks are stellar, the systems are still stovepipes.

Many agree the resulting disarray the Navy finds itself in is primarily a governance issue because no single individual or command has been the designated authority to determine how communication systems should be bought and integrated into the military. Often, the funds for new systems are not a single line item in an overall “information technology” or “C4I” budget. It is a line item in a number of different projects. “In the future, we can’t operate that way,” Adm. Starling says, “and I am confident that we will move in a direction more and more toward enterprise solutions.”

The service recognizes the need to have one entity with some oversight responsibility in the C4I and information technology world to ensure the balance is right from one end of the Navy to the other. More and more—and for better or for worse—the admiral is hearing from military leaders and commanders that NETWARCOM should be the organization that does this, he adds.

Several issues must be tackled before such a task can be accomplished. For example, NETWARCOM is working with the Defense Information Systems Agency and the U.S. Marine Corps to align the Designated Approval Authority (DAA) process, the accreditation procedure for approving software to be put into the field. Today the services and the joint community do not share the same rules for accreditation and certification. The admiral says the services are working to correct this disparity and moving from proprietary contractor-built, one-of-a-kind solutions to open architecture and enterprise solutions.

As the services address the technical side of information technology accreditation, they also are working toward uniformity in the governance piece, the admiral relates. “You’ll see more and more the services merge together on agreed standards, and that will, by definition, make us more interoperable. It presents part of the challenge as we work through it at very high levels, but it’s also a challenge right down at the waterfront and in the tactical levels,” Adm. Starling offers.

While plans for future information system processes are being constructed, the command still must respond to commanders who have proprietary ship systems and need support in training and equipment. Adm. Starling notes that this is one of NETWARCOM’s responsibilities and is working to see that it gets done, but he adds that it will not be finished overnight. “That’s why right now we’re trying very hard to get back to a fleet focus and look at our aircraft carriers and ships. As we have new systems coming down the road like LCS [littoral combat ship] and LPD-17 [USS San Antonio], it’s critical that the Navy makes us part of the information systems process very early on rather than take a solution that is handed out by a contractor,” he says.

NETWARCOM must be ready to meet the needs of new classes of ships as they enter the fleet such as the USS San Antonio, the latest design for an amphibious ship.
The need to change how the military and the commercial sector interact is undeniable. Both sectors find themselves in the current predicament because companies built propriety systems and the services purchased them. As a result, the company was assured of continued business as the buyer had to rely on the same company for support.

Adm. Starling allows that this situation is due, at least in some part, to the services’ procurement processes. “We need to go to the contractor and say, ‘You must deliver a solution that fits into this architecture.’ That’s something we haven’t done in the past, and I think we will be smarter and better at doing it in the future,” he states.

Changes also will have to occur in the commercial sector, the admiral adds. “There’s probably some industry culture out there that has to change. The old models of building a stovepipe piece won’t work. My guess is that there are companies and industries out there that get that part of it. There are others that think they will lose their base if they do that because they don’t understand that maybe if they built this thing and gave it away, they could make another gazillion dollars,” he shares.

Providing the Navy with new capabilities is about more than the individual products, Adm. Starling emphasizes. Industry certainly is turning out new and exciting applications and systems every day, but at a rate that is often faster than the service can absorb them. While a command may be able to install a new system in a relatively short amount of time, the admiral notes that this is only the first step. Once in place, the service must be able to support it with staff and training. This is a piece that has been neglected in the past but has much higher visibility now, he states.

The admiral believes that in some cases the next generation of sailors holds the key to reducing the disparity between production and integration, and it is a phenomenon that industry should be paying attention to as it creates products in the future. “In terms of software applications, we’re getting smarter and smarter and smarter kids in the Navy. They grew up using computers. If you want to teach kids how to use a computer to play a game today, usually you just hand it to them. Companies don’t send instruction books with software anymore because the software is so intuitive that you don’t need them,” he says.

One consequence of this phenomenon is that the need for formal instruction will greatly decrease. “If a kid can play [a] flight simulator, we can probably design a C4I awareness battle management system that works the same way,” the admiral states.

Improvements and possible expansion of NETWARCOM’s role in intelligence also may be on the horizon. The admiral says that members of the command understand that collecting and disseminating intelligence is no longer enough. NETWARCOM personnel must look at the daily activities of warfighters on the front line. They must understand what the ships in the fleet are doing and what information they need each day. Command staff also must determine whether some other national asset, such as the National Security Agency, could support a ship’s mission by providing intelligence that the agency already has on hand. To fulfill this part of its mission, NETWARCOM may be assigned additional intelligence leadership duties in the near future.

The admiral envisions NETWARCOM’s Maritime Headquarters with Maritime Operations Centers (MHQ with MOCs) (SIGNAL Magazine, November 2007) as the first reach-back call commanders place when they need extra expertise when they respond to an event. “We’re their one-stop shopping spot,” Adm. Starling declares.

To fulfill this multitude of responsibilities, Vice Adm. James D. McArthur Jr., USN, NETWARCOM’s previous commander, developed the command’s 2006-2010 strategic plan. Because of this plan, NETWARCOM’s staff members can focus their time and energy on the right priorities.

“We have an organization within this headquarters that is a little unique from other places that I’ve been before. The Enterprise Transformation Group was put together when we decided to merge with NNSOC and NSG. The group guides that work inside the headquarters, so we are slowly populating each subordinate level with the individual tasks that now support the strategic goals,” Adm. Starling explains.

The plan features six goals that range from establishing and sustaining network operations capabilities to extending information operations and ensuring the Navy fully leverages and influences space capabilities. Each goal features numerous subgoals that are organized in tiers. The plan is built on guidance from both the Navy and the joint leadership, and the admiral believes it is on the mark. “Technology may change, but I think we will always want to operate on our piece of the information systems with the rigor that you would a weapon system. I think we’re always going to want to have a first-class work force. Those pieces are enduring.”

One way the Navy is going to achieve this rigor is by eliminating more than half of its legacy systems by September 2010. The Cyber Asset Reduction and Security initiative, a project that began less than two years ago, will help the Navy solve its largest network problems, which involve the legacy systems and include operating costs, security vulnerability, reliability and the ability to integrate new software. Networks outside the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet, OneNet and IT-21 are without question the service’s most vulnerable points, the admiral states.

And as with all large organizations, system and information security are prime concerns for the Navy. Adm. Starling believes that the leaders in the service understand how important security is, but he says that many service members at lower ranks still do not appreciate the need for meticulous security practices. “And I frankly think that informing the fleet is a job that falls directly to me. I think that education is something that we here at NETWARCOM have to do.

“We’re the biggest and baddest target in the world, so a lot of people want to come at our networks. I think that the commanders, the senior commanders, get it. I think the budget guys get it. I think the Navy gets it. I think there is education that needs to be done further down the road, and I think that I’m the guy who is going to carry the torch,” he declares.

Although the admiral maintains that Navy leadership understands the importance of NETWARCOM and its mission, he notes that as the command’s roles and responsibilities continue to increase, it will need the staffing and funding support to accomplish this mission. “We’re in a growing business, and the demand signal for what we do goes up and up and up every day. And we’re also in an environment where the manpower glide slope of the Navy is coming down, and resources and how they get apportioned in the future will be challenging. I’m not going to be able to do all the things that I think I should be doing for the Navy with the staff that I have now unless in some areas we can find some efficiencies. In general, the argument today for more people and more money is a very challenging one. How I balance those two pieces of growing demand and fewer resources will be interesting,” the admiral says.

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