Modernization and integration of shipboard voice communications systems are long overdue. This is true of interior communications with a mixture of analog and digital telephone and general announcing and wireless systems. It is especially true for exterior communications, which include secure dialup services and secure tactical radios. Both must be modernized to enable Navy seagoing platforms to operate effectively as extensions of the Global Information Grid (GIG) in net-centric warfare.
There are operational, programmatic and economic reasons to modernize. Operationally, shipboard voice communications are stuck in an unwieldy and inflexible mixture of analog and digital devices and networks. These systems evolved to provide specific voice communications services without an overall framework to tie them together.
This has led to the present situation in which ships have a mixture of voice devices and systems which function like stovepipes that are difficult and expensive to support and do not provide interoperable networked communications. This is especially true for tactical secure voice. Unlike interior voice systems, which can use equipment based on public telephony standards, tactical secure voice is a loosely coupled set of military unique systems.
At the time of fielding, each individual system met valid operational requirements, but the supporting infrastructure for all these systems was built on an ad-hoc basis that was largely outside the formal requirements process. From a programmatic perspective, this lack of coordination is what makes modernization difficult. Shipboard communications are moving toward the integration of all services over a common network. Programmatic responsibility for specific services and devices must now be either partially or wholly subsumed into a broader program to assure a unified effort.
Similarly, the development and fielding of the infrastructure for shipboard voice communications must now become a broader and more formal process. Migration should become a system-engineering task with a specific long-term goal and a phased implementation plan or rolling baseline. This task should begin with an understanding of the operational requirements and the capability of meeting them in an integrated environment. Typically, development requires translating user requirements for an existing voice capability that spans from a handset to a radio into a specification for a service distributed across an open architecture network.
Strategy for Development and Deployment
This strategy to develop a plan for unifying and modernizing shipboard voice communications provides a guide for integrating the many voice services afloat into manageable increments.
The long-term goal is to provide improved shipboard voice communications with less expense and less maintenance while still being able to continually improve these services in the future. The method will be to consolidate stovepipe services onto a common network that supports all the appropriate existing operational requirements and yet adds new and flexible capabilities through a life cycle integration process.
One of the main difficulties of integrating voice services is the need to provide adequate security. This difficulty is compounded for shipboard voice because of multiple and changing levels of security and the simultaneous need for low latency and highly reliable, available and survivable communications. There is also the need to integrate secure coalition communications over these same networks and supporting devices.
There are two ways to approach the security problem. The first, which is not aligned with net-centric IP-based design, is to run separate networks at each classification level. This approach is counter to integration because of the difficulty in communicating across the security boundaries, both on and off ship.