Navy hoists anchor on fleet infrastructure buildout

Consolidated networks program promises huge leap in technology capabilities

The Navy is expected to award initial technology development contracts early this year to two contenders for the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services program, a key initiative in the Navy’s strategy to streamline the networks aboard its ships and the service's procurement of new information technology.

CANES will be the backbone on which eventually all classified and unclassified systems aboard ships are built, allowing other procurement programs to focus on software. According to Navy officials, the program will also provide a large leap in information technology capabilities afloat, provide for integration with the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) at shore facilities, and act as a springboard for new technologies, such as cloud computing, to be deployed to the fleet.

The initial awards, which were expected by the end of January, will be for development of CANES' infrastructure elements — a consolidation of the servers, workstations and networking systems that support multiple networks, The networks include the Integrated Shipboard Network System, Sensitive Compartmented Information networks, and Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System Maritime.

A follow-on procurement for the enterprise services element — the service-oriented architecture implementation that will support future command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications and other shipboard systems — is expected this spring.

The infrastructure design is likely the biggest problem for the industry teams competing for the CANES program. The main challenges they face are how to achieve a standardized environment for Navy ships at sea, reduce the footprint for IT and produce a system that can support myriad functions, said Patricia Tracey, vice president of defense industry development at Hewlett-Packard. Such a system should make it “easier to sustain performance at sea,” she said.

The problems of a shipboard environment aren’t just dealing with space limitations and vibrations. “You have to not only fit the solution inside the space limits but [also make sure] it fits the engineering of the platform, and of course, each of the platforms is engineered differently," Tracey said. "And you have to be able to deliver in a very narrow time frame so you don't delay the return to service of the vessel."

The first acquisition is on track, said Navy Rear Adm. Michael Bachmann, commander of the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. The acquisition is being managed by the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (PEO C41), part of the Navy’s Team SPAWAR procurement enterprise.

“We are expecting the source selection for the two primary vendors that will be involved in the competition toward the very beginning of 2010,” Bachmann said. “So we feel very comfortable, the [PEO C4I] team's made a tremendous effort. We participated in the development of the system design spec so we'd get open standards, readily available to help us facilitate the interface that we have to attain with the NGEN program as that evolves over the next couple of years.”

Although an approach where two development teams compete against each other is used frequently in major weapons systems programs, it is unusual for an IT program, Tracey said. “It's not uncommon to do bake-offs in the weapons system arena, but it's not common in the IT arena. I think that this is a much more rigorous RFP for IT services than I think we've ever seen." The advantage of the bake-off approach is that “it takes some of the risk out of it for the Navy by giving them an opportunity to choose the best of a couple of designs and proposals. That's an interesting approach that may pay off for them.”

Tracey said it’s clear how much work had been done in advance in developing requirements for CANES before presenting the request for proposals to industry. “It had a very detailed engineering management expectation around the development work that is not typical in the IT arena. So I think they are bringing lessons from some of the other major programs they run to this one.”

Some of those requirements in the RFP were the result of the Navy's early experiences with CANES technologies that the service tested during the Trident Warrior afloat network warfare experiments. “At the time we did Trident Warrior in the last two to three years, we brought blade server technologies afloat, and the fleet readily sees the significant advantages that are attained with the new technology,” Bachmann said.

CANES has already had a major effect on the Navy’s other C4I procurement programs. “Within Team SPAWAR, going back about two years now, a major muscle change occurred where funds and resources were pulled out of programs that historically did networking and architecture and were moved into the CANES program,” Bachmann said. “But that also had the added benefit for those programs that gave up resources of focusing them on rearchitecting their applications to complement the CANES architecture as we migrate to service-oriented architectures.”

Meanwhile, that network effect is expected to spread. Outside the Navy’s C4I programs, other programs are looking at the possibility of using the CANES infrastructure and focusing on software rather than needing to worry about networking and hardware.

“We just see an enormous amount of benefit associated with the CANES program, which has been broadcast at both the [Office of the Chief of Naval Operations] level as well as across the other PEOs and been well received,” Bachmann said. “Programs within the Naval Air Systems Command and Naval Sea Systems Command have certainly seen it and are planning on capitalizing on this infrastructure as we move forward. So for us, it's thoroughly transformational to everything that we'll do downstream.”

Bachmann said the Navy views that architecture as an opportunity to use CANES as a springboard to cloud computing aboard ships — using virtualization and other technologies to dynamically provision capabilities within the shipboard environment — and potentially across the fleet, as required.

“Once we put in this virtualization infrastructure, we'll be able to migrate to a cloud infrastructure,” Bachmann said. “And the beauty of that is — if you've been following the reorganization that [the chief of naval operations] has affected with the standup of the N2/N6 organization — it really helps us to start to posture ourselves, at least in the afloat environment, to be able to deal with data across diverse infrastructures. So to us it's a really significant and transformational move that we're making. And I think as we start to feel that and the fleet gets more visibility into it, they'll understand how powerful a construct this is.”

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.

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