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CHIPS Articles: Strike Force Interoperability

Strike Force Interoperability
Navy officers and government engineers ensure combat systems are strike group ready and surge capable
By Sharon Anderson - July-September 2008
Strike Force Interoperability Officer (SFIO) teams, consist of Navy officers and senior civil service project engineers with a strong technical pedigree in fleet operations using integrated and interoperable command, control, communications, computers, combat systems and intelligence (C5I) systems aboard U.S. Navy ships.

NSWC Dam Neck's SFIOs ensure that combat systems are integrated and interoperable within a carrier strike group or expeditionary strike group. Although SFIOs do not deploy on ships, they identify C5I issues within the strike groups for which they are responsible as established by U.S. Fleet Forces Command in May 2004.

"We analyze and monitor C5I equipment to identify interoperability issues and track their resolution," said Pamela Schools, who is a project engineer on the SFIO Team.

SFIOs primarily work with the strike group's N6 leadership who focus their attention on C5I support. The SFIOs help to identify, communicate and resolve interoperability and modernization issues key to strike group readiness and surge capability.

"There are three naval officers and three civilian project engineers here at NSWC Dam Neck. Each naval officer is teamed up with a project engineer, and together they are responsible for multiple carrier strike groups and expeditionary strike groups.

"For example, I am responsible for the USS George Washington and USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Groups. I am also responsible for the USS Nassau and USS Bataan Expeditionary Strike Groups," Cmdr. John Vliet said.

"Within each one of those strike groups, there may be as many as eight or 10 Navy ships assigned, so what I just gave you are close to 45 separate ships, from aircraft carriers and big deck amphibs, to guided missile cruisers, destroyers and frigates.

"That is how we spread the division of labor within the SFIO organization. At any given time, any one of those ships could have an interoperability issue or a modernization issue, and then we go into action. We vet those issues to Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) 05W4 Strike Force Interoperability Program Office at the Washington Navy Yard and also to Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM)," Vliet explained.

Training on new combat systems is important for the ships' crews, as well as the SFIOs, according to Vliet.

"With today's rapid development of COTS [technologies] and other C5I systems, it would be an overstatement to say we know half of the technical aspects of all new systems available to the fleet. Having said that, it is imperative that SFIOs and project engineers be trained and stay current on the capabilities and limitations of these new systems.

"If it is difficult for the technical community to stay current on new systems, you can only imagine how difficult it is for a young Sailor aboard a ship, which is why training for the Sailors with reference to these new systems is imperative," Vliet said.

To ensure they are well prepared for the job, SFIOs and project engineers attend a weeklong C4I training seminar, sponsored by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). "These seminars are held quarterly in San Diego," Schools said.

"It gives you all the SPAWAR points of contact for C4I, but let's not forget combat systems," Vliet added.

The team also gets training from NAVSEA 05W4 and information from NDE, the Navy Data Environment, a source of information about ongoing modernization throughout the fleet.

"It is the authoritative data source for modernization and it has four or five parts. NM is the Navy Modernization piece, AMPS is the Afloat Management Planning System which NAVSEA 05W4 created to manage the C5IMP (Combat System and C4I installations and improvements), and there is a logistics module," Schools said. "SPAWAR has SPIDER (SPAWAR PEO Integrated Data Environment and Repository) which feeds programmatic data into NM and AMPS automatically."

The SFIO Team analyzes the ships' problems and works with NAVSEA to determine the best course of action for resolution.

"We analyze the modernization data on our respective ships and vet the issues through NAVSEA 05W4. If it is something we need to address, we address it. If there is an interoperability issue — that is where we come into play. We don't physically go down to the ship to fix it; however, we might go to a ship to discuss an issue. We push the right buttons to get the right people involved," Vliet said.

Interoperability issues are complicated due to the fact that each ship in the Navy has a different configuration, and even when differences are small, it still makes fixing problems difficult, according to Vliet.

"No ship is the same, so the testing at sea becomes complex. We try to identify and keep an up-to-date status on the testing and installations on the ships and make sure that we inform NAVSEA 05W4, the type commanders, for us, specifically NETWARCOM, and the fleet commanders about what is going on.

"Sometimes as systems are being installed on ships, they are still being tested at land-based test sites," Vliet said.

Vliet added that the only sure test for combat systems interoperability is at-sea testing.

"They discover new things on ships; it is just the nature of the business. You can't test everything in the lab; you have to get it out into the at-sea environment and flex the system."

The SFIO team is proud of the contribution they are making to fleet readiness, but they are continuously working on ways to improve, according to Vliet.

"If you take one thing out of this interview, understand that our main interest, our focus, and our main goal, is the fleet. I have been in the Navy for 27 years and most of that time at sea, I don't care how sensitive an issue is, it is going to be brought up on behalf of the United States fleet."

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