Chances are that if you use a telephone on an East Coast Navy base or are a Fleet customer that needs radio, satellite, or network communications, you are using services provided by the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic.
NCTAMS LANT and the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Stations (NCTSs) across the globe deliver and defend agile, resilient, and secure computer and telecommunications systems for global maritime and joint forces, said NCTAMS LANT Commanding Officer Capt. Kelly A. Aeschbach at an AFCEA event Dec. 9.
“Our mission is essentially assured communications, whether you talk on the phone or radio — or send an email... We have 14 sites from North Dakota to Djibouti providing Fleet broadcast and RF,” Aeschbach said.
NCTAMS LANT and its 14 sites provide the broadcast link between high level command authority ashore and U.S. and NATO ships, aircraft, and submarines operating at sea in areas of broadcast coverage.
NCTAMS LANT has three major sites in the local area: the headquarters, located on the Norfolk Naval Station, a teleport site in Chesapeake, Virginia, which is one of the six Defense Information Systems Agency teleport system sites, and the Unified Atlantic Regional Network Operations Center, co-located with U.S. Fleet Forces Command, the largest network operations center in the Navy, Aeschbach explained.
The DISA teleport system controls a variety of communications interfaces between the Defense Information System Network (DISN) terrestrial and tactical satellite communications (SATCOM) assets.
“We are the heart of comms … We assure that vital link between ship and shore. The Fleet is our primary customer; that’s why we work 24/7,” Aeschbach said.
NCTAMS LANT headquarters has three core work centers: the Joint Fleet Telecommunications Operations Center (JFTOC), Enterprise Messaging, and Technical Control.
“JFTOC is the ‘battle watch captain’ for troubleshooting Fleet outages… The good news is we can fix many of the problems, but if we can’t, we will facilitate working the problem through with someone else to find a solution whether it is SPAWAR, the Naval Shipyard, or DISA. We are committed to staying with you until the problem is solved …,” Aeschbach said.
Tech Control provides broadcast service across the radio frequency spectrum, from very low frequency (VLF) for submarine communications to the extremely high frequency band for satellite communications, Aeschbach explained. NCTAMS LANT is also one of only two Navy sites that processes naval messages using the Command and Control Office Information Exchange (C2OIX), a recent upgrade.
Messages are prepared on computers, transmitted, and routed electronically via the Department of Defense information network (DoDIN). C2OIX began replacing the decades-old Defense Message System (DMS) in 2013.
Interestingly, the newer C2OIX integration added complexity to troubleshooting problems, said Aeschbach. However, NCTAMS LANT inaugurated a comprehensive training program for information system technicians (ITs) that is designed to accelerate their ability to obtain required qualifications and certifications, she said.
“About 50 percent of NCTAMS LANT manpower is ITs,” Aeschbach said, “We have 469 military, 186 civilians, and 42 contractors at headquarters, and including all our non-HQ sites, 1,240 personnel.
“Each year, we receive 75 first-term Sailors directly from A or C School. The Navy would prefer to send them out to the Fleet, but there aren’t enough billets so they go to shore commands. Coming here, they have a significant breadth of responsibilities and multiple requirements.”
The IT rating, which is part of the Information Dominance Corps, includes the former ratings for data processing technician and radioman, Aeschbach explained.
Recognizing the importance of information to maritime warfighting, the Navy established the Information Dominance Corps in 2009. In an unprecedented organizational change, professionals from the intelligence, information professional, information warfare, meteorology, and oceanography communities, and members of the space cadre were combined under the leadership of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance (N2/N6). This transformation resulted in an aggregated, unified corps of professionals that produces precise, timely warfighting decisions.
“The Navy has about 10,000 ITs, and it is the second largest rating in the Navy. They are expected to be proficient in traditional communications, such as radio frequency, as well as the Internet, NGEN, and cybersecurity... The challenge is ITs are expected to be able to do it all,” Aeschbach said. “The problem I have is that I need an IT to be specialized on systems he or she will never see outside of a NCTAMS.”
For example, NCTAMS LANT has more than 30 systems that require specific qualifications to be able to operate, Aeschbach explained.
“Sailors going through the tech control training pipeline take 16 months to qualify; for the message center pipeline, it is 10 months. A typical tour of duty is 24 to 36 months,” she said.
Training is rigorous and fast-paced. First term ITs are required to meet the Personnel Qualification Standards for their job as soon as possible and obtain their Enlisted Information Dominance Warfare Specialist (EIDWS) designation within 30 months of reporting on board. They are expected to make 3rd class petty officer during their tour at NCTAMS LANT, but 2nd class is preferred, Aeschbach said. They are also encouraged to begin an academic degree course of study. “The aim is to develop ITs in a timely fashion to receive a return on investment from the training they have received.”
To boost their opportunities for promotion, NCTAMS LANT has an Advancement Bootcamp to help personnel study for advancement exams.
“The Advancement Bootcamp has a 70 percent success rate — meaning 70 percent of those who attend are advanced,” Aeschbach said.
ITs are also required to keep pace with technology advancements and cybersecurity, for example, obtaining Microsoft and cybersecurity certifications.
“We have an In-House Training Academy that includes a Basic, Intermediate and Advanced curriculum broken down into 4 to 6 week blocks. Not everyone goes through all three courses; it depends on the job,” Aeschbach said.
Lessons learned from the in-house training program have been passed back to the A and C Schools and to the Center for Information Dominance for course improvements, Aeschbach said.
Despite the stringent requirements, many excel and achieve the qualifications within the designated time lines, Aeschbach said. “They are passionate about what they do.
“We discuss it all the time – given what the young ITs get paid, the long hours they are expected to work, and what is required of them – is the pace of training realistic – are the requirements realistic?”
Aeschbach, who is a Naval Intelligence Officer, is filling a cross-detailed billet as Commanding Officer of NCTAMS LANT. She was previously the Deputy Director of the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Capabilities Division (OPNAV N2/N6F2). Most recently, she served as Executive Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operation for Information Dominance.
“When I was at the Pentagon, I didn’t fully appreciate the challenges the IT rating had. But we have to have qualified people to go to the Fleet. As the CO of NCTAMS LANT, I have a thousand people that I can rely on if there is a problem. But if you are an IT chief afloat and there is a comms problem, the CO expects you to be able to fix it…” Aeschbach said.
After their tour at NCTAMS LANT, ITs are eager to take what they learn to the Fleet, she said. “It’s what they joined the Navy for, seeing new places, and going to exotic ports. The problem is once we have them fully trained, we don’t want to lose them, but have to let them go.”
The intensive training they have had will serve them well if they maintain their qualifications and
expertise, Aeschbach said.
“Whether they stay in the Navy for one tour or retire, they will be incredibly marketable once they leave. Of course, we hope they will stay in, and we have had a good retention rate.”
For more information about NCTAMS LANT, visit: www.nctamslant.navy.mil.