Navy wrestles with comm challenges in unmanned systems, cyber warfare

 The Navy’s communications structure and capabilities are central to the missions the service carries out on a daily basis, and while they are crucial to national defense, their execution faces unprecedented hurdles in today’s threat landscape, according to top Navy officials.

Though all Defense Department components must deal with budget cuts, cyber threats and the current explosion of technology and information, what they mean for the Navy is unique, according to Rear Adm. William Leigher, director of warfare integration for information dominance at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

“We all see variations of the same [challenges],” Leigher said May 3 at the AFCEA Navy IT Day in Vienna, Va. “These are cyclical things…but it’s different this time.”
For example, as the services prepare to reduce forces, it’s particularly difficult for the Navy because force reductions were already taking places even as land forces saw build-ups over the years, he said.

“We look at the Navy today understanding what we need as a global force to operate forward, and we think we’ve already taken a lot of cuts, both in force structure and budget,” he said. “This isn’t harder for the Navy than it is the other services; it’s just that we’re going to look at it a little bit differently.”

Still, the resources and competencies distinctive to the Navy are driving what Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert deemed the service’s navigation plan: warfighting first, operate forward and be ready. Those tenets are being employed as the Navy takes on the tough tradeoffs between operational requirements and what can actually be delivered amid considerable fiscal constraints, Leigher said.

Some solutions lie within the changing requirements of the Navy, such as the transition to cyber warfare, increased nonkinetic capabilities and changing geographic obligations.

“It really changes our perspective of how we can integrate, it changes the kinds of weapons we want to build and it gives us the warfighting platform that brings to bear information and cyber technologies,” he said. He added that response to the shifting requirements involves intensive manpower and partnerships across agencies, and also the  right blend of the Title 10 and Title 50 authorities that govern the roles and responsibilities of the military.

The Navy also faces challenges in moving away from its more traditional operations to a new landscape of unmanned capabilities, Leigher said.

“[It used to be that] when we talked about the platform, the platform was in fact the capability,” he said, pointing out that traditionally, naval technology has been with manned capabilities, but unmanned systems rely on sensors and networks, and produce “an explosion of information” that also requires new approaches. “You have to think about it a little differently.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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