Ideas Become Reality As New Strategies Unfurl

May 2008
By Rita Boland

A petty officer talks on a sound-powered telephone on the bridge of the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Adm. Edwards would like to see a system on ships that allows bandwidth dedicated to the Plain Old Telephone System allocated dynamically for other uses as necessary and rededicated to the telephone system when a commander needs to make a call.  
Admiral explains state of networks and shares vision for the future.

The U.S. Navy has made great strides in the communications field in the past two years, but the work is far from over. When the position of deputy chief of naval operations for communication networks (N-6) on the staff of the chief of naval operations was reinstated in 2006, the vice admiral who moved into the spot recognized naval needs and implemented measures to move the sea service forward both through technology and policy. Now, as he prepares to retire and pass the reins to a successor in June, he can see many of his plans coming to fruition and make recommendations for the path ahead.

Since Vice Adm. Mark J. Edwards, USN, took over the role as the N-6, the Navy has changed in several ways, from becoming more network-centric, to finding new and better ways to partner with coalition and other friendly naval forces (SIGNAL Magazine, December 2006). One of the biggest adjustments, according to the admiral, is awareness at the senior leadership level of the critical nature of computer networks and the significance of networks to commanding and controlling operations. He explains that while the Navy has long understood the importance of afloat communications networks, it has come to a new realization of the critical nature of its computer networks, such as the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), and how important the intranet and overseas networks are to warfighting. Without those networks, the Navy’s ability to manage troops in the field would be significantly impaired. “Quite frankly, what [these networks] have morphed into is a warfighting command and control system,” Adm. Edwards explains.

New uses for the networks also raise new questions and problems for their employment, such as how to protect and invest in them and how to unleash the capabilities of personnel so they can take best advantage of the technology. In addition, commanders have to use a new mobile strategy so they can command and control from various platforms at sea and ashore.

Along with the networks themselves, Navy network centricity has advanced since 2006, especially in terms of consolidation. The service has been working to transform seven to eight networks in the fleet into only one or two networks. “We’re going to consolidate the service, we’re going to make them more secure and we’re going to change the architecture,” Adm. Edwards says.

The architecture eventually will be service-oriented, and the Navy will take the concept from ship to shore. The Navy plans to recompete the next-generation NMCI in October 2010, which gives the service the opportunity to transition the former Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services architecture, now called Information Technology for the 21st Century or IT-21, to on-land use as well. At the same time the service will roll up the network it uses outside of the continental United States.

“We have a strategy,” Adm. Edwards says. “We will revamp architecturally our entire Navy communications network between now and 2010 to 2012. I think that is a fundamental shift.” The overall architecture changes include U.S. Marine Corps technologies as well as communication capabilities with allies and partners.

Since 2006, the Navy has reduced its number of legacy networks by 40 percent and plans to reduce the number an additional 83 percent by 2010; it is on track to reduce its entire information technology footprint by 51 percent by then. “We pay $1.6 billion a year in legacy costs,” Adm. Edwards states. “That’s a tremendous overhead to have to fund each year. As we get off these legacy systems, we can take that money and reinvest it in our networks to make them more agile and flexible.”

In addition to his goal to reduce legacy systems when he became the N-6, the admiral also planned to take advantage of enterprise solutions during his tenure. “We’re trying to embrace enterprise solutions because we can no longer afford to buy things in onesies and twosies,” he says.

The admiral and the Navy have taken several steps to leverage enterprise options. For example, they have leveraged the enterprise through an improved and enhanced partnership with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which has spent large amounts of money on military networks and network tools for functions such as collaboration and Web browsing. “Instead of us developing our own, we’re going to use those tools that DISA has already provided,” Adm. Edwards explains.

Working with DISA is only one way the Navy has upgraded operations through an enterprise approach. “We’ve applied the enterprise solutions in a number of areas to reduce costs, and we’ve reduced them substantially,” Adm. Edwards says. With the Oracle database management system, the Navy projects saving more than $62 million from what it spent in 2005 to 2006 by using enterprise options. The service already has realized $56 million in savings and projects a total of $150 million in savings by 2013. “It all adds up after awhile,” he explains.

The Navy also has been able to reduce costs by focusing on business processes and by gaining a better understanding of how money is spent. For example, Navy personnel can use technologies available in the digital age to better audit their telephone records. Each year, the Navy spends about $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion on its telephone services, and the N-6 has teamed with the Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer to examine the telephone bill to ensure the Navy is charged appropriately for the services it receives. “We’ve found across the board that we’re paying more money than we should, sometimes up to the point of 15 or 18 percent more than what we’re actually using,” Adm. Edwards says. “We’ve started that, and we’re likely to be able to go back over seven years of billing and recoup some money.”

The service also has centralized its telephone contract. “Just centralizing will save us $1.6 million a year,” Adm. Edwards explains. “We continue to look at where our journey is going [and] how we can make these dollars go further by better governance and better oversight.”

Lt. Cmdr. Lloyd Reinhold, USN, commanding officer of the mine countermeasures ship USS Scout, speaks with Kuwaiti navy Capt. Faisal al-Majed aboard Scout during a mine countermeasure training exercise involving U.S., British and Kuwaiti naval forces. Operating with the sea services of other nations remains a priority for the U.S. Navy, and effective communications are a key part of that collaboration.
Another area Adm. Edwards focused on when he became the N-6 and continues to work at is collaborating with the navies of other nations. “We really want to enhance our relationship with our partner navies in a global context, and you’ve got to be able to communicate in order to do that,” he explains. To that end, the Navy is using commercial technologies such as subnet relay that take advantage of current shipboard infrastructures. These types of architectures allow information to flow from a satellite to a large platform such as a carrier; the carrier then can transmit the information to partner ships even if they lack the same satellite connectivity.

The Navy also is concentrating on maritime domain awareness and the Maritime Security and Safety Information System (MSSIS). The system enables NATO countries to share all unclassified, automatic identification data from ship and shore receivers, creating common operating pictures.

“We continue to have forums and meet regularly with our partners,” the admiral shares. “Part of the discussions always centers around how we can exchange information better, how we can exchange data better, what technologies we can use, what our allies are doing, how we can enhance their capabilities and how they can enhance ours.”

An additional area Adm. Edwards was focusing on in 2006 was the stand-up of Maritime Headquarters with Maritime Operations Center (MHQ with MOC) (SIGNAL Magazine, November 2007). The first MHQ with MOC at U.S. Fifth Fleet reached initial operational capability in October 2007 and will receive full operational capability status in fiscal year 2011. While the Navy has worked out the operating concept, as well as some architectures and strategies, it continues to focus on those issues. The N-6 has partnered with U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) and its commander, Adm. Robert F. Willard, USN, to make Adm. Willard’s vision of the MHQ with MOC a reality. The Navy will make a large investment in the content build of the MHQ with MOCs to satisfy the requirements of PACFLT.

Of course, to carry out operations and communications in any center with any partner on any platform requires bandwidth allocation. Bandwidth has been a serious issue dating back to 2006 and before, and its allocation affects current and future operations. “You never have enough,” Adm. Edwards says. “This is one thing I’ve talked a lot about, and although you don’t probably ever have enough bandwidth to do what you want to do, we’ve at least got to get to a point where we can connect our sailors and our warfighters together, and I’m concerned about that.”

The admiral has three major focuses to ensure the Navy has the bandwidth it needs for future operations. The first is support for planned military satellite programs, whether run by the Navy or another service branch. The second focus is a partnership with industry. “We have to come up with strategies to have industry provide us with surge technical capabilities when we can’t get enough allocation to the Navy for bandwidth for military satellites,” he explains. “It would be bandwidth on demand. We would be able to buy bandwidth as needed from a commercial source that would be available when we required it.”

The third focus is on dynamically managing bandwidth through the Automated Digital Network System program. The program addresses the issue of how to manage and allocate it efficiently. “I think that’s an issue that’s very important,” Adm. Edwards says.

To illustrate his point, he uses the example of an aircraft carrier that is underway for a deployment. Onboard is the Plain Old Telephone System, or POTS. Bandwidth is allocated to that system whether or not it is in use. What Adm. Edwards would like to see is dynamic use of that bandwidth, reallocating it to systems with more priority, and then rededicating it for commanders when they need to make a telephone call. “You can dynamically manage that to where your priorities are,” he says.

As the admiral prepares to retire, however, and hand the Navy’s communications over to a new leader, he says the path forward for the sea service is not a focus on a specific program or system but rather on plans and policies. “I think the future is in these architectures and database strategies,” he says. “How do you share your data and how do you govern it overall?”

He also says that the future strategy is to connect technologies together in an open architecture that is easy to upgrade, easier to maintain and less costly overall. “I think the path forward … will be an open architected capability where your software and hardware are loosely coupled and not hardwired together,” he explains.

In addition, the admiral believes that in the future, the Navy has to expect the current technology trends to increase exponentially. “So the military—and I’ll speak for the Navy in particular—we have to take advantage of this as our platforms become more and more expensive and more and more pressure comes on our funding streams,” he says. It is becoming increasingly necessary to net forces together, he adds.

Netting forces together can have a major impact on the effects the military can achieve against its adversaries. “I think the place of networks in our Navy and the place they are going to play today and in the future is only going to become more and more important,” Adm. Edwards says. “I think it’s an exciting field to be in. I think it’s an exciting field for our sailors to have a career in. I think it’s where the future lies as far as where warfighting is concerned.”

Web Resources
Vice Adm. Mark J. Edwards’Navy Biography:
Navy/Marine Corps Intranet:
U.S. Pacific Fleet:


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