Mediterranean Deployment, USS McFaul, July 4, 2020
USS McFaul (DDG 74) is conducting ballistic missile defense (BMD) operations in the Mediterranean Sea in response to an emerging Middle East crisis. It is of national importance for McFaul to succeed in her mission. The commanding officer’s operational requirements for intelligence, indications and warning, queuing data and other mission essential information require reach back to supporting commands and agencies ashore along with uninterrupted communications with the Task Force. Were these capabilities to falter, the risk to mission would be high.
Because the Navy’s networks have aligned to the Joint Information Environment (JIE) architecture, McFaul operates in a cyber domain providing secure and reliable information exchange to and from the tactical edge. Enterprise services allow for seamless communications and movement of information among Navy, joint and allied mission partners. This linkage between Navy information systems and JIE relies on identity and access management (IdAM) for delivery of time-critical information to ship operators based on their roles for this specific mission, and a unified, robust security architecture protecting her networks from adversaries trying to disrupt or deny McFaul’s mission execution. Although the ship operates, by today’s standards, on low bandwidth communications links, (low in terms relative to in garrison or shore-based units connected via fiber optic communications links) back to shore, she has confidence that the right information is received at the right time.
Navy’s insistence on standardizing on open data formats, in alignment with JIE tenets, allows for data compression and prioritized routing to achieve the most effective use of limited bandwidth resources. A disciplined approach of building an information architecture and data strategy to support JIE also incorporates artificial intelligence agents to enabling role-based access to information, and execution of an information management plan that prioritizes delivery of critical operational information above non-essential information.
Finally, the unmanned aerial vehicle detachment assigned to McFaul is ready to execute contingency operations to sustain command and control (C2) with the Task Force Commander should circumstances deny or disrupt McFaul’s primary communications. Through redundant JIE capabilities distributed throughout the Strike Group, mission success is assured as McFaul’s data and critical information services are supported by the “tactical cloud” resident across the Task Force. This tailored network approach maximizes the benefits of JIE at the tactical edge ensuring commanders enjoy Assured C2 and enhanced Battlespace Awareness.
Reality? Not today, but this this will be the future of cyberspace and warfighting. The Navy must organize, man, train and equip to support JIE to the tactical edge. The Navy has Title 10 responsibilities to implement and operate JIE, and must organize at all levels to support that obligation. Achieving this new reality requires hard organizational decisions and actions to align with the other services and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) programs, investments, architectures, policy, and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP), in order to sustain and operate the JIE within Navy. Defining the technical solutions is easy, as with any comprehensive change management initiative, overcoming institutional resistance and institutional inertia are harder challenges.
However, these are not insurmountable as three of the main JIE objectives are those already desired within Navy. Specifically, to:
- Consolidate and standardize on an information architecture and supporting infrastructure that provides operational commanders visibility on all nodes of the network to proactively defend it against adversary actions or identify and isolate nodes where an attack has occurred;
- Improve operations, security and interoperability with coalition partners as directed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the DoD Chief Information Officer in 2011; and
- Realize Information Technology (IT) efficiencies as articulated in the DoD IT Enterprise Strategy and Roadmap from October 2011.
Austere budget times are here to stay. IT standardization and JIE enterprise services offer the possibility of fiscal savings for all services if properly implemented. Similarly, any joint capability can’t be successfully applied within the Navy’s information architecture without understanding and accounting for unique maritime environment challenges.
So what are the obstacles for the Navy in implementing JIE? Why aren’t we there today? The answers fall into two broad categories; the need to organize for success and the requirement for fundamental architecture improvements.
Organizing for Success
Over the last decade of war, the Navy improved both combat effectiveness and efficiency by providing more capable networks afloat, reorganizing the systems commands and program executive offices (PEOs), establishing the Navy Cyber Forces Type Commander, and standing up Fleet Cyber Command/Commander 10th Fleet as the operational arm to oversee capability delivery and operations. Changes on the horizon such as establishment of the Information Dominance Forces Command, replacing the Navy Cyber Forces Command in October 2014, will further improve the man, train and equip pieces to support JIE. While changes to date have provided incremental improvements, with all organizations uniformly synchronized on the same philosophy and with funding priorities aligned to ensure capability delivery in a synchronized manner, the Navy and DISA can realize value-added warfighting capabilities.
More profound changes are needed for the long term. For example, there is currently no C2 structure for Navy funding prioritization to correct cyber security vulnerabilities. As one of the basic tenets of JIE, ubiquitous cybersecurity situational awareness and compliance verification is vital to network resilience. Today, each program office prioritizes its funding for remediation of identified vulnerabilities using individual criteria. This disorganized approach means that some of the most critical vulnerabilities may not be corrected in a timely or consistent manner leaving the information enterprise at risk. To comply with JIE objectives, there must be a process where one organization directs how fiscal and technical resources are applied across the Navy enterprise to fix the most threatening vulnerabilities identified by a robust risk analysis process conducted by Fleet Cyber Command/Commander 10th Fleet.
This necessitates changes in how execution year money is managed between OPNAV, the systems commands and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN RDA). With a deliberate and iterative risk analysis process, the Navy could ensure funding is shifted and applied to fix the most dangerous threats, thereby better protecting critical Navy warfighting systems.
Additionally, this risk process must include the mechanism for the Navy to justify service “accepted risks” with the JIE to U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), the Joint Staff and DISA.
There will never be sufficient funding to address every threat, and the Navy has to focus on those vulnerabilities most detrimental to its mission or likely to be exploited by an adversary. The institutionalized process for risk analysis must address scenarios where Navy deliberately accepts risks due to inability to fund or execute a remedy, and articulates a mitigating strategy to the joint community to reduce potential impact to others in the JIE. A similar approach already exists with combat systems where interoperability issues among U.S. and allied systems are identified and “workarounds” are used to mitigate issues too expensive to correct.
Governance over research, development, and acquisition of new systems to ensure compliance with JIE standards to advance warfighting capabilities is key. Program managers need to be held accountable for adherence to JIE standards and architecture. This requires thorough review of programs and measures verifying funding is provided only to those programs that demonstrate compliance. Maintaining a focus on compliance with JIE identified open standards for technology will also improve interoperability and speed fielding of capability to the fleet.
Another area to improve is the Navy’s large enterprise program of record (POR) contracts supporting the future Naval Network Environment (NNE) like the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), now transitioning under the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) contract for shore-based networks in the United States, and ONENet for overseas networks. There is a lack of synchronization and strategic planning in the way we acquire needed capabilities across the enterprise. The Navy can simplify this by focusing on key elements and required enterprise services that should be common and interoperable between these contracts. The existing separate contracts for different elements of the NNE, along with the afloat component and the Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN), add unnecessary complexity within naval networks to achieve JIE goals and as a whole may induce unintended costs.
Realizing the JIE end state of enterprise services for applications like email and chat, identity management and role-based access to data, and a cybersecurity environment that crosses these networks requires contracts be written with a comprehensive enterprise approach and a disciplined governance of technical solutions to ensure these networks can truly be realized as warfighting systems. For example, there are no enterprise services in place today for McFaul’s CO to support embarking the destroyer squadron commodore and seamlessly integrating his staff’s applications, services, and data to immediately begin operations.
There is no universal email address to follow the commodore while making that shore-to-ship transition, no data “cloud” for him to access his data ashore or have it efficiently pushed shipboard, and no way to have an identity or role follow him so he can rapidly be positioned for operational decision making at his new location afloat. While JIE concepts support this mobility, the Navy is not currently organized to ensure governance and funding flow to achieve this end state, nor do architectures exist to support it. Complex contract vehicles are challenging, but the Navy will only be able to fully support and achieve the benefits of JIE by implementing these changes.
Architecture Changes Needed
The current Navy “enterprise” is really comprised of four “cylinders of excellence” that do not allow for attainment of JIE objectives even within the Navy. This is complicated by factors such as contract complexity, and a shipboard environment where technology insertion lags due to funding shortfalls and the uniqueness of shipboard installations (i.e., hull integrity, electromagnetic compatibility, damage control, power, ventilation, and other factors extend shipboard information systems upgrades 7-10 years notionally between hardware upgrades).
The glacial pace of network modernization afloat pales in comparison to the speed that industry modernizes, and, more importantly, our adversaries’ ability to use common and available technology to generate low-cost means to exploit our reliance on high tech. IT deployment to Army and Air Force units in garrison does not present the same issues as a shipboard installation. While many contributing factors such as funding, complexity of installation, testing and accreditation slow the rate of technology insertion, the end result is still the same: antiquated networks that cannot keep pace with cyber security threats or achieve JIE standards at the tactical edge. This leaves the Navy afloat environment more vulnerable from a security perspective and unable to achieve the enterprise service objectives thereby ceding operational advantage.
Because these disparate enclaves have their own technology implementation processes, tools, and management procedures, the Navy has no means to establish and maintain a dynamic cyber network common operational picture (COP). A COP is needed internally to Navy, and in support of JIE, for Defensive Global Information Grid Operations (“DGO” now called DoD Information Networks or “DODIN”) shared situational awareness on the health and reliability of the network and Defense Cyber Operations (DCO) on the security posture.
Without a COP, shared situational awareness of threats and responsiveness to technical or security concerns is limited and time late. In the future, the COP should leverage artificial intelligence agents using predictive methods to alert operators of potential issues based on environmental factors and case-based reasoning. The current lack of a COP hinders the Navy’s agility and responsiveness in rerouting and securing nodes on networks to execute Continuity of Operations Plans or other mitigating actions to sustain operations.
A second technical capability Navy enterprise architects must address is the need for a federated enterprise directory across all Navy networks and synchronized with other DoD networks. Synchronizing operations with joint partners in today’s complex battlespace requires very close operational links with the other services. For JIE enterprise services such as role-based access, identity management, and universal email and chat to work, there must be a common enterprise directory across the Navy network environment.
For example, Lt. John Doe would be “john.doe” when logging into a Navy network with his Common Access Card, and his data access and information would follow him wherever he went, afloat or ashore. While the Navy is working towards that goal, with particular emphasis to leverage DISA’s JIE provided services, there are technical barriers to making implementation afloat work. The current DISA JIE model involves users from the tactical edge reaching back for their email and data to enterprise servers and data centers ashore and pulling information back to the tactical edge. This model runs counter to the way ships operate and the need to have access to these services when operating without satellite links as in an Anti-Access Area-Denial (A2AD) scenario.
The Navy also needs to aggressively implement a data strategy based on open standards allowing for efficient exchange of data between ships and shore. If all data were in an open standards format like eXtensible Markup Language (XML), advanced compression algorithms could be applied to the data prior to transmission over satellite links. Data could also be “tagged” and prioritized ensuring the most important compressed data are exchanged with the operational unit first, and data can be marked to support “tear line” releasability with partner nations. This standardization is an essential step to improve interoperability within DoD and among coalition partners, one of the key tenets of JIE.
To ensure compliance, all POR systems must show how their programs adhere to the data strategy and open standards formats. If not compliant, they should be required to correct this deficiency within three years or lose program funding. A key part of the JIE approach is to achieve efficiencies via use of DISA’s Defense Enterprise Computing Centers (DECC). For the Navy to take advantage of DECCs, the data strategy must align with the JIE concepts. DISA, in turn, needs to address specific Navy requirements for quality of service and secure data transfer to the tactical edge. Whereas data compression is vital for the Navy, it may not be as pressing a concern for the other services. However, any technology advancement to improve cloud computing for the Navy, such as XML compression, will result in significant benefits for the other services’ last tactical mile as well.
Moving even beyond open standards and meta-data tagging, the Navy can define a cloud computing architecture supporting the last tactical mile. This includes storing and forwarding data from the tactical teleport sites where the Navy links between ships and shore. The current architecture does not support this and many Navy sources of data are simply web-based front ends to services residing within disparate data centers ashore, making prioritization of critical data and efficient use of bandwidth untenable.
Finally, the security architecture needs to be “baked in, not sprinkled on” in all network and systems designs. Tools, processes and improved training are needed for executing the DCO functions required under JIE. These include verification of compliance with network scanning and patching that would quickly alert operators to vulnerabilities for correction or isolation from the JIE. The processes for performing these functions afloat today rely on Sailors to implement approved fixes, which at times take PORs months to distribute, and self-report completion. Industry best practices do not use such touch labor practices, but rely upon automation and more rapid patch deployment. Navy’s existing processes lag the threat, are manpower intensive, are prone to error and cannot be easily verified for efficacy.
JIE at the Navy’s Tactical Edge
To realize the benefits of the JIE vision at the Navy’s tactical edge, Navy network designers have to ensure that DISA’s JIE architects fully understand the naval operational environment and its unique requirements; from operating in an emission-controlled environment or A2/AD scenario where any transmission may disclose the ship’s location, to the ship operating in a receive only mode for long periods of time.
How do JIE and cloud services work in a disconnected or disrupted network environment? The Navy must first define its operational architecture in sufficient breadth and depth so that subsequent technical and systems architectures can be promulgated that support JIE objectives to overcome existing deficiencies.
For a ship, this means having shared infrastructure shipboard to store and forward its information to a survivable network with redundancy in damage control situations, combined with organic alternatives to satellites for high data rate communications and survivable C2. For shipboard infrastructure, the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES), a Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command program that consolidates five legacy shipboard networks into one is a good first step.
However, CANES only accounts for a portion of the information systems and networks employed, so the Navy is far from achieving the desired end state. Ultimately, shared infrastructure afloat will reduce the server footprint and will be the repository for standardized data broadcasts from the teleport sites. Part of this shared infrastructure would include directory services allowing shipboard personnel to continue operating internally and via line of site high data rate airborne or afloat communications relays when disconnected from satellite links.
Navy planners working with JIE architects should include the means for dynamic routing of data and information via these nodes without requiring reach back to the shore. Shipboard architectures must be self-sustaining in a combat environment and include localized defense-in-depth systems and processes for cybersecurity. This shipboard network should be built to open standards and with the applications, tools, and procedures enabling seamless integration into JIE.
Continued emphasis on providing Navy tactical units with unmanned vehicles and autonomous vehicles (UV/AV) via air, surface and subsurface that provide communications relay and routing capabilities to extend C2 across the tactical operating area is critical and provide needed backups to space-based capabilities.
Current efforts for UV/AV development and implementation afloat do not provide sufficient flexibility for agile multi-mission platforms to support varied operational scenarios (e.g., strike, sensors for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, communications routing and relay, etc.). A multi-mission or tactical modular “repackaging” approach to Navy UV/AVs is needed to provide alternatives to maintaining C2 and communications in disrupted or denied communications environments. Airborne platforms can bring JIE capability to the tactical edge via the Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN) and the Joint Concept Cyber Operations which provides the C2 for the JALN. This construct uses airborne UVs to extend the range of battlespace high data rate communications.
So while the CO of the McFaul does not have the means to operate as described in our scenario above, it is within the realm of the possible with the right organizational and architecture changes aligned to the JIE framework. To make that operating scenario a reality for commanders, the Navy must establish, sustain and operate its networks in concert with the tenets and construct of the JIE, and ensure that Navy equities and requirements are properly captured and included.
Captain Danelle Barrett is an Information Dominance Corps officer with 24 years experience in communications and information operations. She is the Chief of Staff of Navy Cyber Forces Command.
Captain James Mills is an Information Dominance Corps officer with 23 years experience in fleet combat systems and cyber operations. He currently serves as the Senior Information Professional Detailer.