Digitization Propels Headway on Dual Fronts
Upgrades and innovations take place in tandem.
The U.S. Navy is focusing on parallel development of its new digital assets and capabilities as it works to rush advanced information innovations to the fleet. With the need for better technologies increasing coincidental to the rapidly evolving threat picture, the service has opted for concurrence as its main tool for implementing both upgrades and innovations.
Shortening the deployment timeline has become more important as technologies evolve more quickly and adversaries become increasingly capable and target U.S. command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) systems. Instead of sequentially moving forward with different disciplines such as design, training, logistics and deployment, the Navy is taking a different look at how it fields digital systems with an eye toward concurrency.
Rear Adm. Kurt J. Rothenhaus, USN, program executive officer (PEO) C4I and Space Systems, describes this approach as viewing challenges, solutions, threats and defenses through the prism of digitization. “The digitization prism is really a game changer,” he maintains.
While digitization may be a priority, it has many different factors, some technological and others leveraging commercial tools. Model-based system engineering and the digital twin effort feed into the ability to work all aspects of capabilities in parallel. The result is a simultaneous opportunity to field a system and train sailors to operate it on procedures already in place. Many of the systems the PEO delivers work across the broad spectrum of capabilities, Adm. Rothenhaus explains.
As an example, he cites the Consolidated Afloat Network Enterprise Services (CANES) program, where one of the central tenets was to design the system concurrently with the training materials and the logistics work for it. Now, by leveraging partners’ technologies, the PEO can synchronize the effort as a workforce.
The admiral lauds the close relationship the PEO has with the commercial information technology sector. “One of the strengths of the organization is the ability to take that significant investment of the commercial sector and bring those tools and capabilities and optimize them to be successful in Navy needs,” he declares. The PEO has enduring partnerships with traditional defense partners, but it also has developed deep relationships with companies that deliver services primarily to the commercial marketplace.
Several familiar technologies are key enablers for the PEO, he says, including software-defined networking, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The PEO already is delivering capabilities that leverage machine learning, and autonomy will play a large role in the Navy’s future along. “Unmanned systems are technology opportunity that we are really excited to support,” he adds.
New technologies in the delivery of software would help the service update systems while on the move, the admiral notes. Having the capacity to redefine and rapidly change software while operating enables the Navy to deliver new capabilities to the fleet more seamlessly, he explains.
The ocean-based force poses some unique challenges, the admiral allows. The fleet operates “very disconnected” at times, and it must be successful on ships and submarines. These systems can constitute the strategic high ground, but they are more difficult to engineer and support. These complex challenges tend to be inherent to the nature of the Navy and its mission, he adds.
Concurrently, potential adversaries have been improving in areas where the Navy historically has had a comfortable lead, Adm. Rothenhaus states. Ironically, one asset poses a more difficult challenge to meet: the use of commercial systems. As advanced as they are, these technologies—particularly their fundamental underpinnings—are available to the adversaries as well. As a result, the service must work harder to overcome these commercially available capabilities.
The admiral states that the PEO is striving both to stay ahead of enemy capabilities and to push them back. “It is a really dynamic tension in push and pull,” he says.
Read more of Adm. Rothenhaus’ insights in the October issue of SIGNAL Magazine, available online October 1.