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CHIPS Articles: The Future of Fleet Information Warfare: Combat Readiness Through Innovation

The Future of Fleet Information Warfare: Combat Readiness Through Innovation
By Adm. Robert J. Natter - July-September 2002
What a difference 14 years of technology makes! In January 1988, ships deploying to the Persian Gulf were some of the first in the Navy to receive a little-known piece of equipment called JOTS, which was the first attempt by the Navy to provide situational awareness over-the-horizon. The state- of- the- art for computers was Zenith 248's with monochrome screens, 20 MB Hard drives, and 5 1/4 floppy disks. For the first time, message traffic could be composed, reviewed, released and transmitted by one person in a matter of minutes (vice hours) with the combination of the computer, a FACIT tape punch and a Radioman (RM) who had the technical knowledge to make it all work.

Fast forward to January 2002. Ships deploying to the 5th Fleet AOR, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) are outfitted with the Global Command and Control System – Maritime (GCCS-M) a fourth or fifth generation of JOTS) and in addition, receive Internet Protocol (IP) traffic (SIPR/NIPR) over commercial and military satellites. The state- of- the-art for computers is the IT-21 Integrated Shipboard Network System (ISNS), a networked LAN, with workstations that have flat-panel LCD 32-bit color screens, 20 (or larger) Gigabyte Hard Drives, and CD ROMs.

Intelligence reports and strike planning data are exchanged in near real-time, providing a formidable advantage against al Qaeda and the Taliban. E-mail can be composed, reviewed, released and transmitted by anyone in the crew in a matter of seconds. The Information Systems Technician (IT) has replaced the Radioman as both operator and maintainer of our communications systems.

How have we made the quantum leap in Information Warfare? Our Navy's ability to dominate the battle space in Operation Enduring Freedom can be traced to smart investment in C4I systems, especially in expanded communications spectrums, as well as the rapid introduction and innovative use of developing technology in the Fleet. Our deploying forces have seen the benefits--from faster, more accurate targeting data to quality-of-life improvements for our Sailors--and our ships, squadrons, and staffs have become increasingly important assets to the unified combatant commanders in today's information centric joint and combined operations.

For instance, consider the bandwidth and throughput capabilities we have developed in satellite communications. The Navy's investment over the past decade in a layered architecture of military and commercial satellite systems – such as Challenge Athena and INMARSAT B HSD – supporting Wideband (SHF/DSCS), Protected (MILSTAR/EHF/MDR) and Narrowband (UHF) communications and steps taken to reduce our vulnerability to jamming on these critical circuits has drastically increased the bandwidth and throughput drastically increased. Before Desert Storm, the Navy's ability to use SHF/ DSCS (X-band) from afloat ships was minimal to nonexistent, and a throughput of 9.6 Kbps was thought to be years ahead of a 600-baud teletype circuit.

Today, the throughput of data on our T-1 lines reaches capacities 100 times that, and on our carriers and big deck amphibious ships can reach the equivalent of two T-1s using a combination of military and commercial satellite systems. The USS John F Kennedy Battlegroup, currently forward deployed, was the first to train and deploy with EHF MILSTAR Medium Data Rate (MDR) capability, providing ships in the battlegroup up to 128 Kbps of bandwidth.

But our future success is dependent on more than just advanced communications hardware and software alone. From the days of the gladiators to the present, history is replete with examples of technology providing an advantage in combat. The key to victory has not been merely having new technology available, but how a warrior has been innovative and used that technology to his advantage in combat.

Navy Information Warfare is no different – we need to approach every system, newly installed or already in place, with a long-term view of how to exploit the rapid development of information systems. Innovative and smart incorporation of new technologies, as well as existing legacy systems, will carry the day for the Navy's preparedness for and success in future joint and combined operations.

Capitalizing on our investments and innovation in technology -- and ensuring our future ships and crews continue to deploy combat ready with the most capable, interoperable systems are the important responsibilities of Commander Fleet Forces Command, stood up by CNO on 1 October 2001. It is a requirement we are achieving by adhering to some key tenets in the Fleet's assimilation of new technologies: integrating new equipment aboard our ships using the D-30 C4I installation process and carefully scrutinizing legacy systems to ensure they are properly supported and applicable to Navy missions; ensuring network reliability and redundancy and providing operational support to the warfighter through the newly established Naval Network Warfare Command; supporting coalition interoperability; and implementing collaborative tools as we transition our information systems to a Web-enabled environment.


The D-30 process, instituted Navy-wide over the past five years, provides our ships, waterfront support organizations, program managers, and contractors a standardized requirement and process for incorporating new technology into each deploying battlegroup. There isn't a commanding officer on the waterfront who doesn't want the best warfighting capability for his ship and crew, assuming that capability is well-supported logistically and with trained operators.

The D-30 process helps ensure our ships and crews quickly get the technology improvements needed to support the demands of their mission. Importantly, the timing needs to be right; our battlegroups need to be able to take advantage of the latest advancements in technology, but early enough for our crews to use in unit level training, put to the test in an operational environment during COMPTUEX and JTFEX, and with the spares and technical support available to ensure their systems are as combat ready in the Arabian Sea as in the VACAPES OPREA.

The Fleet and those who support them from ashore must work together to achieve the D-30 milestones, especially D-24, when baseline configuration is established, and the Target Configuration Date (TCD) at D-6, the deadline for completing installations. In the past, a typical battlegroup might submit as many as 200 TCD waiver requests, and ships too frequently deployed with equipment they were ill- prepared to use. We're getting better – TCD waivers are now the exception rather than the norm, and better planning by the Fleet and the technical support community has allowed us to move most C4I upgrades to maintenance availability periods well in advance of pre-deployment workups.

Adhering to these standards will ensure our Navy maintains its edge in technology. Follow a less disciplined plan and we risk sending into combat a ship loaded with the latest gadgets but unable to deliver ordnance to the enemy.

Amid the innovation afforded by these new systems installations, many of our legacy systems have continued to perform superbly. Legacy communications paths, such as UHF and HF, and legacy applications, such as LINK-11 and Officer-in-Tactical Control Information Exchange System (OTCIXS) continue to be the workhorses of the Fleet and provide us additional options in systems redundancy. That said, we must be ruthless in our assessment of legacy systems, hardware, and applications. Not only must they be applicable and useful to future Navy operations, but they must be logistically supported and be able to keep up with the pace of innovation in Navy C4I as we transition to new technologies. Importantly, we cannot settle for keeping a legacy system in place merely because our users are comfortable with old ways and habits.


Over the past decade, the exponential growth of e-mail and the Internet in command and control of joint, combined, and Fleet operations has made network reliability and redundancy perhaps our most "mission critical" concern for the warfighter. SIPRnets and unclassified network servers alike have become indispensable to watchstanders, planners, and decision-makers allowing near real-time exchange of data and imagery, facilitating distributed planning and targeting processes, and providing global information access at the tactical, operational, and strategic level.

We have made the jump in capability to support this exponential growth primarily with Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware and software – superb in most respects for the capability provided and the cost involved, but not often designed to support mission critical applications and systems. Fleet Forces Command, working with the Systems Commands, the lead Type Commanders, and Task Force NMCI, has begun an extensive review of networks, nodes, and users to assess our vulnerabilities from the perspective of the Fleet operator.

Once this review is complete, we'll need to quickly push forward with a plan to correct our shortfalls in this area. It is one of the first tasks to be undertaken by our new Naval Network Warfare Command (NNWC), to be stood up at Little Creek, Va., in July 2002 with Vice Adm. Dick Mayo at the helm. NNWC will be the central operational command responsible for coordinating all of our information operations and space operations in the Navy. Reporting administratively to CFFC, NNWC will provide operational support to all of the Fleet CINCs. NNWC will also assume the title of Naval Space Command and serve as the Navy's component to Commander, United States Space Command.


The significant involvement of coalition forces in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM – including over 100 ships deployed in Central Asia for an extended period – has re-emphasized the requirement for improved IP data systems interoperability with allied and coalition forces. Preparation for this extent of interoperability started several years ago: In the Atlantic, CVs, CVNs, LHAs and LHDs have routinely deployed to the 6th Fleet AOR with the NATO Initial Data Transfer System (NIDTS). In the Pacific, the same classes of ships have been outfitted with Coalition Wide Area Network (CWAN).

In 1998 we added Battle Force E-Mail 66 (BFEM 66) to the list of data transfer capabilities and have encouraged our allies to invest in this relatively inexpensive system. When fully fielded, this equipment will allow each of our ships to transmit data via High Frequency (HF) radios connected to PCs, providing redundancy to other more robust systems, and facilitating data transfer with coalition ships having more limited communications capabilities. Today, Battle Force E-Mail has been installed in more than 160 U.S. Navy ships and ships from a dozen nations.

Building on the success of prior operational deployments of CWAN, NIDTS, and Battle Force E-Mail, Fleet Forces Command has recently approved the concept and Fleet requirement for deploying Combined Wide Area Network (COWAN) with each deploying Battlegroup and Amphibious Ready Group. The USS John C. Stennis and USS John F. Kennedy were the first two ships to be fitted with COWAN-A, allowing the exchange of e-mail, Web browsing and chat with our coalition partners. We will expedite delivery of similar capabilities to smaller ships at a reduced cost, installing a "COWAN-Lite" system that will use existing BFEM 66 hardware and adding a laptop, router, and crypto.

Future coalition operations may require linking of multiple COWANs to enable operations on a global scale. On a more limited scale, COWAN operations will likely require rapid configuration to support a regional contingency, similar to what was done to support 33 participating nations in US Central Command's Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange (CENTRIX).


Starting with the USS John C. Stennis and USS George Washington Battlegroup's use of Collaboration at Sea (CaS) in 1999-2000 and the USS Carl Vinson's success with Knowledge Web (K-Web) in 2001-2002, the Fleet has been inventive and innovative in developing methods of collaborative planning to support the warfighter. Their pioneering efforts have paid off during Operation Enduring Freedom, as the Enterprise, Theodore Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy battlegroups have adopted and expanded collaborative planning to support strike missions into Afghanistan, MIO and amphibious operations, logistics, and command and control.

Mission briefings and operational data posted to replicated Web sites, the use of various collaborative tools such as MS Chat, Sametime Chat, and Instant Messaging, and application sharing have dramatically increased information flow and situational awareness, facilitating better decisions by commanders at every level. Most importantly, it has helped the Navy rapidly and effectively carry the fight to the enemy, at and from the sea, for a sustained period of combat operations. We could not have done it as well without the benefit of globally networked collaborative planning tools.

To complement these collaborative tools, the Fleet is working with Task Force Web to achieve our goal of "Web- enabling" the Navy by 2004. The USS George Washington tested the first Navy Enterprise Portal, beginning in December 2001 through May 2002, validating our designs for afloat portal architecture. Portal equipment was operational on SIPRnet and NIPRnet, with over 50 applications available to 3,000 users during the pilot. The feedback and lessons learned from this initial test are already being engineered into the Enterprise Portal installations for the next two battlegroups, scheduled for later in 2002. The goal of the Web-enabled Navy will be ubiquitous data – data relevant to any of the Navy's operations and administration, from authoritative sources, available anytime, anywhere. That data must be presented in a format that enables each Sailor to carry out his or her duties most effectively, whether that be as a division officer or leading chief, a maintenance technician, a watchstander on duty in CIC, or a battlegroup staff planning the next combat strike mission.

Putting into perspective our Navy's current capabilities, imagine what a day underway would be like without the investment and innovation we've made over the past decade in Navy Information Systems. We would have no effective long haul connectivity; no shipboard Local Area Networks; existing networks would be unprotected and totally vulnerable to the next virus or hacker attack. Our strike warfare planning cells would not have access to timely imagery products, Tomahawk mission data units would be nonexistent, and our air tasking orders (ATO's) would trickle in by teletype. There would be limited targeting and battle damage assessment data and no non-organic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) information available. Our ships at sea would have extremely limited access to meteorological (METOC) information, and quality of life improvements such as e-mail, Internet access and TV-DTS would be beyond the dreams of our Sailors at sea.

Today's capabilities began with some wise decisions to invest strongly in communications technology and some innovative thinking on the part of our ship and squadron crews and our operational staffs, the Systems commands, and all involved in the Navy C4I community. The result is a much more capable warfighting force, and our success in the war on terrorism can be attributed in part to the remarkable advancements we've put in place. I'm convinced we have the talent for innovation and access to technology to continue the pace we've set for ourselves over the past decade. If we do, today's capabilities hardly scratch the surface compared to the tremendous potential for the future of Navy Information Warfare.

Admiral Robert J. Natter, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet
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