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CHIPS Articles: Vice Adm. H. Denby Starling II

Vice Adm. H. Denby Starling II
Commander, Naval Network Warfare Command
By CHIPS Magazine - October-December 2007
Vice Admiral H. Denby Starling II assumed command of Naval Network Warfare Command June 15, 2007. He is responsible for operating, maintaining and defending Navy networks, and conducting information operations and space operations. Overseeing a global force of more than 15,000, he is also the functional component commander to U.S. Strategic Command for space, information operations and network operations.

CHIPS asked Admiral Starling to talk about NETWARCOM's Strategic Plan and his perspectives on current naval information technology and C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) initiatives at NETWARCOM headquarters Sept. 21, 2007.

CHIPS: I read NETWARCOM's Strategic Plan, there are so many intriguing goals that it is difficult to focus on a few, but can you discuss the Cyber Asset Reduction & Security (CARS) initiative?

Vice Adm. Starling: Information technology has grown up in the Navy over the years in a stovepipe fashion so we have a hodgepodge of networks and applications. Despite the fact that we enclaved a lot of IT assets into the NMCI, One-Net and IT-21, there is still a tremendous number of legacy networks and applications. We have networks that aren't behind an NMCI or One-Net firewall, and we have multiple applications serving the same function with all the associated extra costs for licensing.

The concept behind CARS is to consolidate and reduce applications and protect them behind firewalls. That's certainly a long-term goal. The stated goal is 51 percent reduction in networks, applications and systems by October 2010 based on what was out there in January of 2006.

The interesting thing we found when we embarked on the CARS program was first determining what's really out there. Our experience doesn't differ dramatically from what a lot of industry found as they have embarked on similar types of efforts, but the Navy enterprise is so much larger. I don't think there is any industry that can compare with the number of things we've had to take a look at.

We've spent a significant portion of our initial work doing due diligence to verify what's out there, and we feel like we have a good handle on that now. We then went to Millington, Tennessee late in 2006, and ran a trial where we used a software application to look at the networks and applications to get a full account of what the Navy had, to see what we could leave behind, and what could be consolidated.

That was a successful evolution. We are now going to start doing that on a much larger scale first looking at the Southeast region. Eventually, we will need to go everywhere. The focus right now and the numbers that we are measuring against are essentially in CONUS and Hawaii, but we will need to do this overseas, and we will need to do this enterprise-wide. It is a huge undertaking.

CHIPS: The Navy has been drawing down since before NMCI implementation. Why is it taking so long? Is there resistance?

Vice Adm. Starling: I think it needs to be put in the right context. This carries a cost with it. If I am the owner of organization X that has an application that has been working well for a long time, if I transition it to NMCI, that's a cost, and somebody's going to have to pay to have that done.

That might not have been in my budget, so that might not be a cost that I want to incur. It may be that the application can't move behind NMCI because it doesn't meet the technical requirements that NMCI has.

So now that owner might have to buy a new application and train people; there are costs involved. 'Resistance' is not the right word. Anytime you try to go down a road like this where people are comfortable with what they have, they can be reluctant to give it up.

In big picture terms, nobody disagrees with the need and CNO requirement. We would like to see it move faster. It's a collaborative effort between us and the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communications Networks (N6).

CHIPS: N6, Vice Adm. Edwards, has said that the Navy really won't see a cost savings in reducing Navy networks until everybody gets onboard with the reduction in legacy systems.

Vice Adm. Starling: One of the challenges out there is that we don't know how much we spend on IT. There are large organizations that operate data centers that have IT budgets, but there are lots of folks who have developed specific software applications or who buy IT or build internal networks to support a program and the money comes out of program money. They may build a network to support a function, and it comes out of other funds other than IT.

One of the big challenges we have is to capture those efforts and figure out if it costs more money to consolidate or eliminate in these cases. As we shut down and consolidate, we can capture that money and use it to continue the effort.

Up front, we had to assign a share of that cost across all the IT shareholders in the Navy. We would prefer to get out of that mode of doing business that way and get to where we are essentially paying our own way. It will be easier for me, and it will make all those other folks who are trying to protect their budget lines a little happier.

CHIPS: One of NETWARCOM's mission areas is information operations. There is a continuous barrage of negative and alarmingly false information about the U.S. and the global war on terrorism posted on Web sites daily by our adversaries. Many analysts say that the U.S. does not do enough to counter this threat. Is this an area that NETWARCOM may enter?

Vice Adm. Starling: Let me come at your question from a different angle. Influence operations is a very broad term, and information operations is also a very broad term and incorporates a number of pieces underneath it, including military deception, electronic warfare, PsyOps (psychological operations) and computer network ops.

There has been an effort by the Navy in the last couple of years to better understand how the things that we do have influence around the world. In my earlier years in the Navy, if we wanted to make a statement, we would park a ship somewhere, or we would move a battlegroup somewhere, and that certainly had an influence on wherever you parked your ship or battlegroup.

Because the world is flatter today, there is almost nothing the Navy does that doesn't get visibility — it exerts influence by everything that it does. One piece of influence ops is understanding how other countries perceive what we are doing. We (the Navy) are paying a greater level of attention to this than we have in the past — things like Phase 0 operations — operations that involve the shaping of the battlespace and sending the appropriate messages that we want to send when we move ships and airplanes around the world.

There is propaganda on the Internet that gets shoved in our face every day. From an operational point of view, we watch it, we live with it, and we try to deal with it. It is not our job, for example, to be the Navy strategic communicators, and it is not our job to be the Navy's voice for countering what our adversaries are putting out.

Strategic communications from that perspective come from a level much higher than this headquarters. In the area of influence ops and understanding, we study how we move folks around and the types of influence that might have, and the way we interface with the combatant commanders to help them develop strategic themes and strategic goals (which we are always looking to do) as we engage in theater security and cooperation efforts. We serve as an organization that has some expertise in that area, and we're a reach-back resource for folks who are doing that.

CHIPS: Could you talk about the concept of the "hybrid" type commander that is discussed in your Strategic Plan?

Vice Adm. Starling: The easiest way to explain is to talk about what I did before I came to NETWARCOM. I was a type commander for Naval Air Forces. We took ships, airplanes and squadrons and put them through maintenance cycles. We would get them ready and turn them over to a fleet commander who would then put them into the bigger training picture to prepare and send them off to the combatant commander.

The business of organizing, training and equipping is type commander 101. Sub guys do that, surface guys do that and air guys do that. NETWARCOM does that as well. We do that for the Navy's networks.

We do some things that other type commanders don't do. Other type commanders don't deal in information operations. We have a responsibility in space operations and the Naval Satellite Operations Center is a direct subordinate reporting to us.

We do a lot of stuff that the platform guys don't do. On top of that we have some national responsibilities. We work closely with the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO) to protect the Navy's networks. In some cases, we are the operational guy who is doing the day-to-day operations. We also have ties into U.S. Strategic Command where we do functional Navy responsibilities subordinate to STRATCOM in a number of the roles that they have in the joint world.

It has been an eye-opener for me learning about NETWARCOM's mission areas.

CHIPS: Can you talk about NETWARCOM's role as the chief executive officer of the Naval NETWAR FORCEnet Enterprise?

Vice Adm. Starling: The thing that is important to recognize is that the NNFE is an organization that is just getting its feet on the ground. The Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) goes back about seven years. The Surface Warfare Enterprise (SWE) goes back about three to four years.

Officially the NNFE started out in early 2006. So it has been just over a year. We are putting the building blocks in place that many of these organizations have had a lot longer to put together.

One of the things that makes it interesting and so much fun is that some of the organizations involved have not been around for a long time or have a lot of maturity. The Naval Network Warfare Command is just over five years old, but NETWARCOM has more than doubled in size and assumed much more responsibility since it was established.

The other side of that coin is that we have had a three-star in Navy N6 for just over a year. Admiral [Mark] Edwards is still shaping his organization in recognition of the important role C4I and IT plays. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command is involved in everything, and they are integral to almost anything that we do.

Enterprise activity in the Navy is about synchronizing activity and getting end-to-end processes lined up. That's a very simple thing to say, but it is a very hard thing to do. If you look at an organization like NETWARCOM, it is still growing fast and maturing in its processes. I would argue that the same thing could be said of N6 and to some extent in SPAWAR.

Now we want to put all these together and start looking at end-to-end processes and that's a real challenge. The other side of that coin is that there is tremendous opportunity. One of the reasons that a number of functions formerly carried out by other organizations have been put here in NETWARCOM is because there is synergy to be gained by getting rid of stovepipes and giving oversight to one command.

Exactly the same thing will happen with the sort of transparency and openness that we are now developing between SPAWAR, Navy N6 and NETWARCOM. I can give you a specific example for how this is working between SPAWAR and NETWARCOM. We have a responsibility at NETWARCOM to be Navy's DAA (designated approval authority) for software and systems. SPAWAR was doing the technical part of it, and we were wrapping up the packages and looking at all the architecture that went around it.

SPAWAR did a Lean Six Sigma project to clean up the technical side, but we didn't do the other piece of it. It enabled SPAWAR to put more stuff on our doorstep faster, and we couldn't keep up. We are revisiting that and SPAWAR is helping us with the expertise to look at this process from the beginning to the end, so we don't have a SPAWAR process and a NETWARCOM process that don't work well together.

CHIPS: Do you think part of the success will be working with the other Navy enterprises?

Vice Adm. Starling: It will be, and it already has to some extent. In the Surface Warfare Enterprise, they developed a SHIPMAIN (ship maintenance) modernization process. It was a process that worked well for ships and parts, like motors and propulsion systems. It didn't work as well for the C4I side of the house because we field capabilities so much faster; technology moves so much faster.

The SWE has done a good job of changing their process to where it is now supportive of our needs. A year ago, you would have heard NETWARCOM say, 'We can't play in the SHIPMAIN modernization process because it doesn't move fast enough to do the things we need to do.'

Two weeks ago, Vice Adm. (Terrance T.) Etnyre (commander, Naval Surface Forces, commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet) and I agreed that there is no reason to have two processes. We have one process and everybody in the Navy now plays in the same process. This is something that could not have happened if we both had not taken an enterprise approach.

CHIPS: Everybody has a piece of C4I.

Vice Adm. Starling: They do indeed, and I think that's been part of our challenge. One of the things that I have asked the folks at NETWARCOM to do since I got here is to take a renewed look at how we manage C4I installs across the fleet. I know that when I was at AIRLANT we did stuff as we could afford to do it and Naval Surface Force, Atlantic Fleet (SURFLANT) did the same. Those schedules often weren't aligned, and the result (a problem we still have) is [that] we wind up sharing a lot of legacy stuff because we don't move our modernization plan smartly through a class of ships or smartly through the Navy.

The Navy messaging systems are a great example of that. The Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic (NCTAMS LANT) maintains a large number of legacy systems because there may be one ship in the fleet that can only communicate that way, and we have to support it. That is not the most cost-efficient way to do business.

We have just stood up, within NETWARCOM, a division to look specifically at readiness. We did not have that function before. I am leaning on SPAWAR, who has provided Rear Adm. Charles Smith, SPAWAR's vice commander, close to full time to help me work this piece. We both realize that by taking a fleetwide view of C4I, and not looking at just AIRLANT's view of carriers or SURFLANT's view of surface ships, we can build a common architecture for the fleet that doesn't depend on legacy systems and equipment.

CHIPS: Can you discuss the work of NETWARCOM's Maritime Operations Center (MOC)?

Vice Adm. Starling: I am sure you are familiar with MHQ/MOC, Maritime Headquarters with Maritime Operations Center. We are going to play in that concept. The expertise in all of those areas that used to be resident in space, IO and networks resides here. We are the Navy's best reach-back facility for information in any of those areas.

Should conflict break out or should something happen that would exceed the capability that exists in a MOC that is forward deployed, we can help. There are day-to-day network operations that go on here because we function as the Navy piece of the Joint Task Force for Global Network Ops. We also want to be the Navy's reach-back point of choice in all those other areas.

A good example is in leveraging space capability. The knowledge of space capability within the operational part of the Navy is somewhat limited. We have a Space Cadre of about 300 military billets within the Navy, and one of the things we are doing is to make our deploying forces smarter on the assets that are available from space.

For example, when I was a battlegroup commander, I didn't have anybody on my staff that was knowledgeable in space operations. When Carrier Strike Group 8 went out on their most recent deployment on the 'Ike' (USS Dwight D. Eisenhower), we tailored an experiment with them and spent time training their staff. We put an officer from NETWARCOM with specific expertise in space on their staff to see if someone at the strike group level would have the sort of expertise buried within the command that could make better use of those assets that we get from space — everything from comms to weather — and all those other features we get from overhead capabilities.

Would that be value added to the strike group? The experiment was successful to the point that Strike Group 8 said, 'We think every group that goes out in the future needs an officer with these specific skills on the staff.' We are trying to decide if that's the way the Navy needs to go. Take that model, build it into networks and all the way out into IO.

CHIPS: How does the NETWARCOM MOC differ from the one at Second Fleet?

Vice Adm. Starling: The Second Fleet MOC is tailored for warfighting at the operational level. A commander there is going to fight the Navy's kinetic fight. That will be true in any of the numbered fleets — Second Fleet, Fifth Fleet, Sixth Fleet and Seventh Fleet. Fifth Fleet is doing it today, and Sixth Fleet is tremendously engaged today.

Their focus will be on the operational level of war and the warfighting aspects of it, but the things we do are supportive. We want their networks to stay secure, we want to help them in areas of network defense, or if they need assistance in things like bandwidth management or allocation.

We could become their space cell; we could become their IO cell, if what they needed exceeded their capability. The key is establishing the connectivity between all the MOCs to create that reach back for any expertise a commander would need.

We are up-to-our-eyeballs in that piece helping to design the overarching architecture both in terms of communications and networks that will keep all these headquarters interconnected so that the information exchange happens seamlessly and in time to support the commander's decision-making process.

CHIPS: One of NETWARCOM's goals, according to its Strategic Plan, is to ensure Navy fully leverages and influences space capabilities. How will you do this?

Vice Adm. Starling: The Navy's approach to space is a critical. We have taken a different approach to space in the Navy than the Air Force has. In the Air Force you can be a professional space officer, come in as a second lieutenant and serve in space functions until you become a general officer.

We don't go at it that way. The Navy has been in space since day one. The products that are available in space are key to all warfighters including Navy warfighters, but the way we have approached it is that we have built a Space Cadre throughout the Navy.

We have IPs, Information Professional officers, who are space specialists. Rear Adm. Jan Hamby (director of operations for NETWARCOM) is a great example of that. We have AEDOs (aviation engineering duty officers) — and a number of our engineering duty officers in our space billets.

We have taken warfighters or engineering experts and we have moved them into an area where they get some expertise in space. Then we have taken them out of the space world and put them back into the fleet or the engineering domain where they take that expertise and spread their wealth of knowledge.

The challenge that we have within the force structure is that we have to make sure that we get the expertise spread around the fleet where we need it and where we think we are going to be able to leverage that to a tremendous warfighting advantage.

We are trying to better quantify the Space Cadre within the Navy. We have a number of enlisted personnel that work in space billets, but within the Navy's enlisted management tracking system, they are not designated as part of the Space Cadre. They are working space issues all the time, and it is not recognized from outside the Navy that we have these folks doing this kind of business.

We are trying to figure the best way to keep their expertise where we need it in areas of space so that we can move them in and out of space billets as necessary. Because they are a small group, they are always under a lot of billet pressure. I have become the advocate for Navy space. When those fights have to be fought by every type commander, about how many people we need and how they should best be distributed and educated, that piece falls into this headquarters.

CHIPS: Look at how well the investment in Information Professionals has turned out for the Navy.

Vice Adm. Starling: We are short IPs in the Navy. If there is a growth area out there, networks and computers are it. The IP community is about six years old, and we are still sorting out what we want our information warriors to look like.

Having brought together the IP center of gravity here at NETWARCOM with network management and combining that with our Information Warfare officers, former cryptologists that are now called Information Warfare officers, you can see the synergy that comes with having those sorts of people working along side each other and doing the same things.

The view from outside NETWARCOM, and it was mine too because I was largely uneducated, is that NETWARCOM's mission is wrapped up in computers and IT systems. Of course, we are about that. It's tremendously important to what we do because it's the backbone of how we move information around, but the much bigger picture is that it's not just about the network — it's about the information and — how you move it around.

You are going to see the responsibilities of this command continue to grow because of the importance of information technology and the need to move information where you want it in a timely fashion — with the right amount of fidelity — to the right decision maker. That's the challenge.

It's more than just building the pipes. We have the right blend of people, not only to build the pipes, but to figure out how to put the right processes in place to get the right information at the right time to the right guy. It's an exciting place to be.

CHIPS: Is that part of your mission now — to push information to the commander?

Vice Adm. Starling: We are going to play a key role in helping to build those enterprise applications and the tools that will enable commanders to get the information that they need at the right time.

We go through this discussion of push-pull on information, and I have never liked it.

When I was a battlegroup commander, and I would ask a question, and the response would be, 'Check my Web page,' that would drive me crazy. That's a pull system, but you don't want to have to go to 50 Web pages to pull what you need. How do I know if something changes on your Web site? Do I have to go to your Web page every day, or when you put something on your Web page, am I going to get an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed or an e-mail?

On the other hand, how many e-mails do you get every day that you just delete because there is no value there. That's a push system, and much of what you get pushed at you is not useful. I think we should be asking ourselves these basic questions.

If there is a message that I am trying to get out, it's that NETWARCOM is about more than just networks. It is more than computers and Blackberries and all of those things that we use everyday, and when they don't work as well as we would like them to, people look in our direction.

We are part of that, but we are more than that. We are about helping to move information around the Navy in a smart and intelligent fashion, in a way that supports decision-making processes by our leaders. You will hear the term 'decision superiority' and it's a term I like a lot because it implies that you can make a decision inside your enemy's decision cycle, and you can't do that if you are bombarding somebody with information or if you are not providing enough. You have to get it just right.

In naval aviation, we had a clearly defined single, fleet-driven metric of aircraft ready for tasking. I am not sure we have found that same single fleet-driven metric here in the NNFE and that is the Holy Grail that I am trying to figure out along with a lot of other smart people.

CHIPS: It's a flag requirement to get out in the heartland especially and speak to the American public, not just for recruiting purposes, it is important for Main Street America to hear about what the Navy is doing.

Vice Adm. Starling: That's always been a requirement and I welcome it. I was in high school during the Vietnam timeframe and I came into the Navy in 1970 when joining the Navy, or joining the military in general, wasn't viewed as positive by a large segment of society.

What I find so gratifying today is that despite all the rancor and debate going on, the support for the military member, the Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine, that are making the sacrifice, has never been stronger. That does my heart good.

I was visiting family in Atlanta a few weeks ago and sitting with my wife and family in a restaurant in the center of Hartsfield Airport and I heard all this applause. When I looked up, it was a group of kids coming back from Iraq. There was a United Services Organization representative walking out in front with a USO sign and as these 30 troops went through — this was over Labor Day weekend — and the airport was jammed — thousands of people stood up and applauded.

It was the coolest thing I have ever seen. When you see it in television commercials, you think that's just a television commercial. I saw it for real — and it was neat. It did my heart good. I was glad I was in the Navy long enough to see us get there.

Vice Admiral H. Denby Starling II
Vice Admiral H. Denby Starling II

Vice Adm. Starling addresses the audience at the Naval NETWAR FORCEnet Enterprise (NNFE) and Industry Conference Sept. 25, 2007. The conference was co-sponsored by the NNFE and the San Diego Chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA).  Vice Adm. Starling spoke about the close partnership of the NNFE and the support that SPAWAR is providing to further the NNFE's objectives.
Vice Adm. Starling addresses the audience at the Naval NETWAR FORCEnet Enterprise (NNFE) and Industry Conference Sept. 25, 2007. The conference was co-sponsored by the NNFE and the San Diego Chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). Vice Adm. Starling spoke about the close partnership of the NNFE and the support that SPAWAR is providing to further the NNFE's objectives.

Vice Adm. Starling in his office at NETWARCOM headquarters Sept. 21, 2007.
Vice Adm. Starling in his office at NETWARCOM headquarters Sept. 21, 2007.
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