Navy views network infrastructure as vital combat component

Efficient and secure network and IT systems important to fleet readiness

The Navy no longer views network and IT systems simply as key infrastructure, but now sees them as critical weapons systems, a top Navy official said June 9. As a result, the service’s culture is changing to reflect this new perspective.

“It’s a combat system,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, vice chief of Naval Operations, said in a keynote address at AFCEA's Naval IT Day in Vienna, Va., collectively referring to network and IT infrastructure.  

Because of the importance of secure networking, the service is stressing fleetwide IT awareness for operations and security requirements. “It’s all about having IT that’s more efficient and secure,” he said.

But to meet its technology goals, the Navy has to change how it develops and acquires new technologies. A key issue is that the service can no longer rely on a process that takes years to develops, test and deploy a new system.

“We’d like to get systems plugged in and try them out sooner,” Greenert said. The Navy recently has taken steps to accelerate the fielding of new systems. One example of this flexible approach is the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. Intended for use on littoral combat ships, the aircraft was ready before the ships were completed.

Instead of waiting, the Navy deployed the Fire Scout aboard a frigate for evaluations. While at sea, the unmanned aerial vehicle detected a fast narcotics boat. Sensor data from the UAV helped authorities intercept the vessel and arrest its crew. This capability was so successful that Special Operations Command is now using the Fire Scout in the Mediterranean Sea, he said.

However, given the current budget environment, the Navy must weigh the benefits of new technologies against their costs, Greenert said.  The Navy is in discussions with the White House about adjusting its spending to maintain its operations. “DOD has to be a part of that solution,” he said.

As a part of this cost effort, the Navy is undertaking a complete strategic review. Areas of focus include reducing overhead, examining specialized niche capabilities that might no longer be needed, and managing high growth programs such as medical care for Navy personnel so they do affect the service’s budget. A final consideration is force structure and what organizational shape the Navy will take in the future.

One way to keep costs in check is to rely primarily on commercial equipment and software and get rid of proprietary technology wherever possible, Greenert said. Another lesson was to favor “state of the practice” over state of the art technology because it is tested and readily available.

A big part of improved acquisition is better communications with the vendor community, which would help with meeting program requirements and other service goals. Greenert believes that it is important for Navy officers to be posted in procurement program offices so they have a better understanding of the acquisition process.

Greenert said DOD also must increase the number of trained and dedicated acquisitions personnel. “We the military have to do our part to build a cadre of professionals,” he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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