Intelligence Empowers New Fleet Operations

December 2006
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Two U.S. Navy intelligence specialists identify and track surface contacts from aboard the USS Wasp. Navy intelligence increasingly will be providing vital information on maritime domain awareness to foreign navies as part of the Navy’s effort to identify global patterns or threats.
Keeping the Navy informed will require collaborative culture and technologies.

Transformation and the Global War on Terrorism are moving U.S. Navy intelligence into an even more networked realm than envisioned just a few years ago. As are the other services, the Navy is addressing the challenges and opportunities brought by network-centric operations in the war on terrorism.

But the service that helped lead the way into network centricity faces additional challenges that are technological, cultural and operational. The Navy is moving into a new era where its activities against global terrorism will depend on multinational maritime situational awareness. It must tailor its network operations to accommodate different security levels as it shares information with foreign partners. And, the Navy must train its intelligence personnel in new skills and approaches for fighting its asymmetric foe.

Rear Adm. Tony L. Cothron, USN, director of Naval Intelligence, N-2, explains that the total Naval Intelligence force, including cryptological and information warfare elements, is just more than 20,000 people. It is “heavily joint,” the admiral points out, so Naval Intelligence is thoroughly integrated within the Navy and in joint intelligence.

The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) is funded primarily by national intelligence money, although its focus is on supporting maritime operations worldwide. It has personnel in national organizations such as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Other people are embedded in joint intelligence centers, joint analysis centers and joint intelligence operations centers. “Our intelligence operations are a real-time collaboration with all of those entities in leveraging the joint national intelligence investment to get timely and relevant intelligence to the operational and tactical commanders,” the admiral says.

Adm. Cothron states that he is trying to promote a change in culture to increase collaboration. “The power of naval intelligence always has been its collaborative approach and working as a team across multiple bonds—and bringing answers to commanders not just from within our organization but from across the network.”

At the heart of naval intelligence collection and dissemination is network centricity. Adm. Cothron states that the key challenge to achieving good network centricity for intelligence is less one of technology and more one of processes, procedures and habits. The Navy still has a tendency to go point-to-point with information, he observes, citing e-mail flows as a prime example.

“We have to get into truly leveraging the network, collaborating in real time, and not having a ‘well, we can’t send it out of theater’ mentality,” he emphasizes. “We have to leverage the entire team, and that’s cultural and behavioral. We have to focus on that as much as, if not more so than, the physical networks and collaboration tools.”

The admiral continues that these tools are important, citing Internet Relay Chat as having changed operations at sea as much or more than anything else in the past 10 years. Being able to chat with others from around the world enhanced situational awareness greatly, he notes. But the Navy still has much more to learn about using these tools effectively to maximize the dissemination of key information and critical intelligence.

And, Naval Intelligence always can use better technologies and tools. The presence of multiple domains has been one of the biggest time consumers, the admiral points out. There is a lack of effective means for multiple security activities in one box, he adds.

More bandwidth will be important, and the Navy must use its existing bandwidth more effectively. This goes back to operational models, he points out.

But, above all, the human factor emerges as pre-eminent when designing technologies and systems for Naval Intelligence. “The one plea I have is to put the human factors first when creating things, and keep it simple,” he declares.

Adm. Cothron describes the 1,000-ship navy as a great concept that is important for maritime security and for responding to threats worldwide. Virtually every naval attaché in Washington is excited about the effect it would have on their navies, he adds.

Its common situational awareness is enabled by sharing information that is supported by intelligence working in the background. The admiral notes that al-Qaida has used ships—Osama bin Laden has been a businessman—so the terrorist group will move supplies, weapons materiel and couriers at sea. And, even without al-Qaida involvement, high seas piracy remains a problem in the Straits of Malacca and off the coast of Somalia, for example.

The President’s National Strategy for Maritime Security defines the ONI as developer of the core element of the global maritime intelligence integration concept. The ONI formed that core element working with the U.S. Coast Guard’s intelligence coordination center. The goal is to evaluate information around the clock across the globe to identify patterns or potential threats. This has brought the ONI into what Adm. Cothron describes as “historic partnerships” with many nations.

But achieving effective intelligence dissemination for the 1,000-ship navy will require an unclassified common operating picture. The ONI’s approach is to employ the automated identification system used by the International Maritime Organization. With all commercial ships carrying this identification beacon, the ONI can locate and track every commercial ship around the world—and share that information with other navies.

The admiral allows that the ONI has been using its technical knowledge and data-handling expertise to work with a number of Navy organizations—such as the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and the N-6 office—along with commercial firms to advance the concept of maritime identification to that of global civil aviation.

“Any one ship could be carrying some threat on board—whether it’s a person, a bomb or something else,” he points out. “This kind of structure would greatly assist in sifting out the chaff to allow us to find a known threat.”

U.S. Navy intelligence specialists analyze maritime traffic using the Navy’s littoral surveillance system. Naval intelligence is becoming more collaborative among diverse participants as the Navy carries out maritime and homeland security missions.
The Navy still needs to penetrate the adversary, steal its secrets and intentions, and understand it deeply from both a threat and a capability perspective. What it also needs now is a new paradigm for naval intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination.

The traditional pair of intelligence challenges—understanding the policy maker, the operational commander and the tactical commander customers and anticipating customer requirements for planning and execution of operations—are more difficult today because the Navy must continue to sustain major combat operations capabilities while understanding the irregular warfare threat. Being able to do both simultaneously is a challenge, Adm. Cothron states.

Even with new generations of ships hitting the waves, the Navy’s intelligence needs do not deviate too much from traditional requirements. Commanders at operational and tactical levels still need timely, relevant and predictive intelligence on threats, the admiral relates. Where the changes are taking place involves the nature of today’s intelligence targets.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, these targets tend to be people more often than platforms. While the Navy must maintain its capabilities to track potential threat platforms at the high end, it must be able to generate lower end intelligence about irregular warfare participants. This capability calls for different skill sets and training, and it is humanpower intensive, the admiral offers.

The Navy is looking to increase the number of its intelligence personnel to accommodate its new missions and intelligence requirements. These include support to the new Navy Expeditionary Command, the Riverine Force, the SeaBees and other force protection groups. More than 700 Naval Intelligence personnel are deployed on individual augmentation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the admiral notes. Their experiences are being incorporated into training the incoming generation of Naval Intelligence experts.

One major change involves intelligence interrogation. For the past two decades, the Navy’s interrogator skill set has resided solely in the Reserve. Now, the Navy is creating an active-duty interrogator and human intelligence capability. Adm. Cothron relates that the Navy is conducting that training with the U.S. Marine Corps at the Navy/Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center in Virginia. He adds that the lead in this effort has been the U.S. Army out of Fort Huachuca, Arizona. This Army group has been a “terrific” partner with the Navy in training a number of intelligence professionals in a lengthy interrogator course, he adds.

Recruiting and retaining personnel remain challenging even though Naval Intelligence receives 10 times as many applications as it has slots, Adm. Cothron allows. These applicants tend to be superb, and keeping them trained is a high priority. The Navy is creating a professional qualification program for entry-level officers, and it is increasing the qualities of junior enlisted personnel. “The expectations by our customers are high for the knowledge levels that we have to have to get the business done,” he emphasizes.

The Navy is making progress on irregular warfare intelligence, the admiral offers. This effort focuses on advanced maritime analytical techniques and procedures, and it includes leveraging business and intelligence community investment in data mining. The Navy’s advanced maritime analysis cell in the ONI is actively engaged with the innovation activities of other national intelligence agencies, Adm. Cothron notes. He adds that this effort has shown great success in discovering timely and relevant intelligence that has been disseminated to naval special warfare and fleet forces, particularly in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations.

The Navy’s new maritime headquarters and operations centers concept provides an opportunity to re-examine where the service places its heavier applications and systems for intelligence activities, Adm. Cothron says. These might be moved ashore instead of placed only on Navy ships.

The admiral suggests that shore basing offers some potential for providing the same capabilities—if not deeper and more effective capabilities—at reduced cost. Tactical commanders still would have the necessary capability for indications and warning as well as planning.

A major challenge is to provide capability at cost. Navy intelligence systems and applications are expensive, particularly intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. The admiral offers that the Navy is trying to operate its intelligence as an enterprise similar to the naval aviation enterprise that has been underway for several years. In an effort to draw expertise from elsewhere in the service, Adm. Cothron relates that he is working closely with Vice Adm. Mark J. Edwards, USN, the N-6, and Vice Adm. James D. McArthur Jr., USN, head of the Naval Network Warfare Command, because they are responsible for the development, programming and placement of intelligence systems throughout the fleet.

One effort involves the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS). Adm. Cothron says that he and Adm. Edwards are examining this expensive and critical system closely, particularly because it involves sharing key intelligence data. Adm. Cothron states that there is an opportunity to make DCGS and the Global Command and Control System work more closely together, as the past few years have seen technology evolution in each program that could result in common applications. If achieved, this will provide humanpower and qualitative savings for afloat and ashore intelligence, he suggests.

“We shouldn’t have three or four different metadata catalogues from different systems sitting in carrier intelligence spaces,” the admiral declares. “I perceive that is where we’re going if we don’t force program offices to get together and sit down to really look at the commonality of what they have.”


Web Resources
Office of Naval Intelligence:
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command:
Naval Network Warfare Command:


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