The U.S. Navy’s latest unmanned aircraft designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) collection and dissemination hit a milestone this month, completing its first flight. The event marks the start of a series of tests to validate the system for future fleet operations. The MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System reached 20,000 feet altitude during the 80-minute flight in restricted airspace while Navy and Northrop Grumman personnel controlled it from the ground below.
According to the Navy, the aircraft platform is critical to the future of naval aviation, as it will serve as a major part of the military’s surveillance strategy in the Asia and Pacific regions. It can fly for long periods of time, transmit information in real time to units in the air and on the ground, and use fewer resources than previous surveillance aircraft. The MQ-4C Triton will be based at five locations around the globe.
The U.S. Navy is establishing new teams to run cyber operations and help defend Defense Department networks as a service extension of U.S. Cyber Command. These teams are part of a centralized defensive and offensive cyber capability that is beginning to take shape within the Defense Department, said Kevin Cooley, command information officer for the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet.
Speaking at AFCEA NOVA’s 12th annual Naval IT Day, Cooley explained that the Navy is standing up 40 cyber national mission teams totaling some 2,000 personnel. All the teams will be up by the end of fiscal year 2016. These teams will function as units based on mission orders from the U.S. Cyber Command, Cooley said.
The Navy teams will provide U.S. commanders with additional cyber resources to use during operations. Cooley noted that many of the information technology and communications capabilities created over the past 20 years have given the Defense Department a major advantage operationally. Potential adversary nations have been working for some time to copy these capabilities for themselves. But, those systems have weaknesses that can be exploited. “We spend a lot of time dealing with how to capitalize dealing with those vulnerabilities so that we can provide our commanders with a robust set of kinetic and non-kinetic options, should that need arise,” he said.
It also is likely many nations and smart individuals around the world are putting similar efforts into exploiting U.S. network weaknesses. “They’re smart, they have a lot of money and they are very motivated,” Cooley said. This is both a problem and an opportunity of national importance, he added.
The U.S. Marine Corps is at the heart of the Defense Department’s efforts to get the Joint Information Environment (JIE) up and running. Although the department has been working to create the secure network operating environment for several years, frustration has risen about a lack of progress, explained Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Nally, USMC, the Marine Corps director for command, control, communications and computers (C4) and chief information officer. Speaking at AFCEA NOVA’s 12th annual Naval IT Day, the general bluntly noted that after two years of work, “we’re still at PowerPoint,” and this frustration has prompted the Corps to put forward its own unification plan.
The commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, USA, expressed this frustration at a recent meeting of the command's various service components. Although about $6 billion is set aside for information technology systems in the Defense Department’s program objectives memorandum, which outlines budget spending, no mention of the JIE was made in this year’s document. This is significant, because a formal allocation of resources and responsibilities will be needed to get the JIE running.
The Marine Corps has promoted its Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN) unification plan as a JIE template, which is the service’s effort to fold several of its classified and unclassified networks into a single architecture. The Cyber Command, the Defense Department and Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) officials are interested in MCEN, because it provides a clear documented path to combining multiple networks with different classification levels into a single enterprise. “We’re working real hard with DISA to move this thing forward,” Gen. Nally said. “This [MCEN] unification plan, this is JIE.”
In the bright world of a fully interoperable U.S. Army, soldiers will be able to access tactical command and control information from any digital device using a standard Web browser, Dr. Michael Hieb, research associate professor, Center for Excellence in C4I, George Mason University, explained. A common operating environment also will enable military staffs to customize command and control software as needed. In fact, staff might even find themselves able to create entirely new applications to manipulate data as needed.
Dr. Heib, who is also a top level adviser to the Army in the area of modeling and simulation, spoke at the AFCEA SOLUTIONS Series – George Mason University Symposium, “Critical Issues in C4I.” He noted that trends in interoperability suggest that the “apps” model of developing small software applications designed to do a limited set of tasks, borrowed from the smartphone world, will take advantage of other development in common operating environments. Dr. Heib also suggested that the new keywords describing work done in the area of interoperability are “agility” (the ability to quickly adapt to new and different kinds of information and big data) and “collaboration” (the ability to allow personnel and organizations to readily share information in the pursuit of a common mission).
Col. Christopher S. Ballard, USA, has been selected for the rank of brigadier general and assigned as deputy chief of staff, intelligence, Headquarters International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan.
Col. Brian M. Killough, USAF, has been selected for the rank of brigadier general and assigned as director, warfighter systems integration, Office of Information Dominance and Chief Information Officer, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Pentagon, Washington, D.C.