Navy Network Governance Changing Course

February 2009
By Maryann Lawlor
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Sailors on the watch floor of the U.S. Navy’s Cyber Defense Operations Command  monitor, analyze, detect and protect unauthorized activity within the service’s information systems. The Navy is in the process of determining the structure it will assume for cyber activities.
Sea service and industry to share responsibility for information technology services.

As the U.S. Navy continues to fine-tune its plans for the Next Generation Enterprise Network, its information technology leaders are focusing on the larger information technology picture, including who has command and control of its networks. Among their other priorities are decision superiority, cybersecurity, maritime domain awareness and training. All of these issues are being viewed through a magnifying glass of fiscal responsibility as the specter of defense budget reductions looms.

At a time when the U.S. military is embroiled in the Global War on Terrorism on two fronts, the Navy has some hefty decisions on its plate. The service continues to transform through increased dependency on network-enabled command and control. As are the other military services, it must keep interoperability in mind in the joint and coalition environments as it designs and purchases new capabilities. Also like the other services, the Navy is discerning in its approach to cybersecurity both as an individual service and as a part of the larger military network. And, with the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) contract coming to a close in September 2010, the service is evaluating alternatives to ensure that, as it moves forward, the Navy has more control of its networks as well as enhanced agility and security.

The latest progress toward determining what the Navy will be looking for in this follow-on to the NMCI is the naming of Rear Adm. John W. Goodwin, USN, as Assistant Chief of Naval Operations (ACNO) for the Next Generation Enterprise Network System Program Office (NGEN SPO). This is the first time the Navy has created this type of organization, and it brings together the Department of the Navy’s governance areas for NGEN under a single command.

The governance structure comprises three divisions: acquisition, operations and programming, and planning and policy. The leader of the acquisition sector reports acquisition decisions directly to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition; it reports directly to Adm. Goodwin as ACNO about daily operations and synchronization issues. The other two division leads will report directly to Adm. Goodwin while coordinating with other commands and offices when necessary.

Adm. Goodwin is not the only Navy leader concentrating on NGEN. A naval aviation officer who has spent the majority of his more than 30 years in the sea service as an information technology operator rather than evaluator, Vice Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., USN, brings a rather novel perspective to this information technology discussion. In June 2008, when he assumed the duties of deputy chief of naval operations for communication networks (OPNAV N-6) and deputy chief information officer, Department of the Navy, Adm. Harris entered the world of information technology for the first time. While he is bringing a fresh set of eyes to the environment, he is by no means a novice. The admiral has experienced the networking revolution in the military from the operator’s standpoint, and in this job he has surrounded himself with technology experts who bring capabilities to his attention that excite him.

“I believe that NMCI in 2008 is achieving much of what we had hoped NMCI would achieve. It’s leveled the playing field for security. It’s allowed us to do things like push security patches that go through the whole enterprise that’s on NMCI. If you look at NMCI historically, it was probably the first step for the Navy to move into what was then called Joint Vision 2010 and now is Joint Vision 2020. It’s actually done that, and it’s moving the Navy toward the U.S. Defense Department’s goal of information superiority. So, I see a lot of good things with NMCI. That said, I think there’s room for improvement, and that’s why we’re going to the Next Generation Enterprise Network,” Adm. Harris says.

One goal is to increase government control of the Navy’s networks, the admiral states. NGEN is a natural follow-on to the NMCI, not a universal overhaul, he adds. “Within information technology in general but within the Navy, governance is an issue. I think that we within the Navy need to improve our governance of IT [information technology]. For example, we have outsourced governance to different levels in the Navy for IT issues. Some of that is good, and some of that might be less than optimal. To get a handle on governance is key,” the admiral offers.

Adm. Harris is hesitant to describe NGEN plans in greater detail because the analysis of alternatives is ongoing. Although Adm. Gary Roughead, USN, chief of naval operations (CNO), and Gen. James T. Conway, USMC, commandant of the Marine Corps, approved a requirements document in 2008, the system specifications will further define the functions and performance parameters.

Sailors and civilians train using a scenario depicting emergency operations at the opening of the Shore Force Training Center, Naval Air Station North Island. Training is one of Adm. Harris’ top five priorities.
Also being discussed is the type of acquisition approach the Navy should take with NGEN. The initial idea is to base procurement on a notional segmentation concept that breaks existing network functions into groups, separating services into those that may be governed by the Department of the Navy. Governance of the remaining services would be outsourced.

This approach is a blend of traditional network governance, which put the Navy in full charge, and the NMCI approach in which the Information Strike Force team led by EDS provides all network services. NGEN request for proposals is scheduled for release this spring.

While NGEN may take up the lion’s share of discussion within the Navy these days, the initiative is only one of several focus areas for Adm. Harris. In terms of the joint arena, the admiral points out that the Navy must consider how it communicates with the other services as it acquires new capabilities. “We can’t invest these terrific sums of money in systems that are service-specific. We have to keep the joint world in mind. We have to keep coalition and allied interoperability in mind as well,” he says. The Joint Staff and the Defense Information Systems Agency are moving out several solid initiatives in this area, and the Navy plans to leverage and embrace those ideas where it can, he adds.

Adm. Harris believes that the dialogue is strong between the Navy and the joint community as well as with the other services. The Navy also recently started formal talks with the communications and information technology sector of its sister service, the U.S. Coast Guard. The services’ senior staffs are discussing a topic that affects operations in both forces: maritime domain awareness. “As the Coast Guard develops its new platforms, and as we work our new platforms, we want to stay interoperable with them,” the admiral states.

It is in the area of maritime domain awareness that Adm. Harris is seeing some of the more creative technologies. While there are many capabilities being developed to improve awareness at sea, those that detect anomalies particularly pique his interest. These include methods to identify a ship that is entering an area it would not normally travel. “That kind of capability is interesting to us. I think it’s exciting technology, and we’re trying to look into that,” he relates.

Another topic of great interest to the admiral is cyberspace. As with all of the services, the Navy is sorting through cybersecurity issues to determine how to organize cyber operations. The joint piece of this has been decided: The U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) is home to the Joint Force Component Command for Cyber. Adm. Harris maintains that the Navy is staying connected with what is occurring at the combatant command so it can coordinate with the other services and ensure a full-court press against the threat.

Security is one of Adm. Harris’ priorities as well as one of his challenges. “We face a lot of threats out there, a lot of threats to the networks, and we need to build security in our technologies in such a way that we don’t have a fortress, but so we can go in and out and keep the enemies out,” he says.

Last year, discussions took place about the possibility of appointing the Naval Network Warfare Command, Norfolk, Virginia, as the command in charge of the cyber element for the Navy. However, Adm. Harris says that Adm. Roughead has been considering different approaches about how the service should organize for cyber, including the roles of OPNAV and the Navy staff. “We are taking a measured, deliberative and proper approach to it,” Adm. Harris says. The decision should be announced some time this year, he believes.

Although overarching issues such as NGEN and the organization of cyber activities are an important part of Adm. Harris’ job, he is just as concerned about individual sailors. Supporting the warfighter is always a priority, he says, so he stays abreast of the needs of naval personnel operating in the desert, at sea and in the air. He wants not only to meet their needs but also to ensure interoperability with others in the naval force, with joint partners and with coalition members. To stay informed about their requirements, the Navy has several warfighter forums, the admiral allows.

In this same vein, Adm. Harris also focuses on training. Although he recognizes that training will be an integral part of the move from the NMCI to NGEN, he points out that it is just as crucial when the service introduces new equipment and new technologies into the field.

And some of the newest technologies are coming in with the digital natives who are joining the Navy. Social networking and other Web 2.0 technologies offer the opportunity to share information and collaborate, and they will provide the Navy with the opportunity to leverage the knowledge within the work force in ways that have not been possible before, the admiral says. “The Navy more and more is composed of digital natives, and those of us who are digital immigrants have got to give them the freedom with which to operate. Web 2.0 will give us the opportunity to do that, so I’m excited about it,” he notes.

Although Adm. Harris is enthusiastic about the opportunities new technologies offer, he is doing so with both feet planted firmly on the ground of reality. As such, one of his priorities is fiscal responsibility. “We live and operate in a fiscally constrained world. We need to not always chase the ‘new new.’ We have to settle out on some things and then build on that. Operating in a fiscally constrained world is a challenge. My priority is to deliver affordable and relevant networks,” he states.

The admiral also recognizes that the N-6 is one very important element of decision superiority, one of the CNO’s 18 goals in his 2009 guidance statement. “Decision superiority is the network and the stuff that rides on the network—intelligence, orders to humans or to machines like weapon systems, receipt of orders, execution of orders and the battle damage assessment piece. All of that is part of decision superiority,” Adm. Harris says.

Although he has been the OPNAV N-6 long enough to understand the challenges to the Navy, to the military, to the networks and to the warfighters, the admiral retains the fervor of a leader who precisely understands the significance of the  N-6 staff’s contribution to the Navy in particular and the Defense Department in general. “I get up in the morning and I’m excited about my job. There’s so much out there to learn, but there are also so many important things to do,” he states.

Asked whether being somewhat of an information technology outsider gives him the advantage of looking at capabilities from a different perspective, he is only slightly willing to agree. “Could be … perhaps. But I say ‘wow’ a lot,” he notes.

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