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CHIPS Articles: Talking with Vice Adm. Jack Dorsett

Talking with Vice Adm. Jack Dorsett
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance
Director of Naval Intelligence
By CHIPS Magazine - April-June 2010
In July 2009, the Chief of Naval Operations directed the establishment of a new directorate on the OPNAV staff, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (DCNO) for Information Dominance (N2/N6). The directorate was formally established on Nov. 2, 2009, following Senate confirmation of Vice Admiral Jack Dorsett as the DCNO for Information Dominance. Vice Adm. Dorsett serves concurrently as Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI).

The establishment of N2/N6 represents a landmark transition in the evolution of naval warfare, designed to elevate information as a main battery of the Navy's warfighting capabilities, and firmly establishes the U.S. Navy's prominence in intelligence, cyber warfare and information management.

On March 23, 2010, CHIPS asked Vice Adm. Dorsett to talk about how information dominance will be operationalized in the Navy and how the stand up of N2/N6 improves the Navy's warfighting ability in this new warfare domain.

CHIPS: Many have used the terms information dominance and information superiority interchangeably. Is there a distinction and does N2/N6 have a definition?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: We do have a definition. When we talk in terms of information dominance we talk about information dominance over potential adversaries. We don't talk in terms of information superiority; in the Navy, we say decision superiority — that is a function that we want our operational commanders to enjoy.

Information dominance is achieved when every platform becomes not just a platform but also a sensor, the sensors are all networked, and our ability to command and control is better than that of potential adversaries. So you can become dominant either for a long period of time or for a short period of time and space depending on how you employ your information capabilities.

The term 'decision superiority' is relatively well-understood in the joint world. Decision superiority is achieved when the decision maker has the right information in a timely manner that permits the commander to decide and take the right action.

In the Navy, when we talk about information dominance and decision superiority, we talk about a competitive advantage that we have today, and we want to strive to retain that competitive advantage.

CHIPS: When you say the commander's decision superiority ability, what level of operations are you talking about?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: All levels, and it's not just the commander. It's the operational forces — anybody who is going to need access to some form of information, whether it is the daily weather report or it's the intention of an adversary — individuals need to have access to the information they need to take action. In some cases, it is aviators who need to avoid a thunderstorm. In other cases, it is a battleforce commander, a fleet commander, who needs to maneuver the fleet as part of the joint force.

CHIPS: Is information dominance realistically achievable as it is in the other domains — air, space, surface and subsurface warfare?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: I think it is, and I have two examples from history. One is related to cyber and the other to signals intelligence. The first one was during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 when Stonewall Jackson had superior knowledge of the operating environment. He knew the Shenandoah Valley, he knew the lines of communication, he had local knowledge of maneuver options — and he also possessed a network of spies. So that knowledge of the environment and the adversary, the Union forces, gave Stonewall Jackson what I would call information dominance in his day.

More close to home, during World War II when the U.S. Navy was breaking the Japanese naval codes we were able to understand the Japanese Navy's plans, their actions and their intentions, in many cases, before they took action — that gave us information dominance. While those codes we broke were largely on high frequency communications, it is very similar to the issue of maintaining dominance in the cyber arena. The challenges today are a little more difficult, but it is still the electromagnetic spectrum; it's still information that we are either protecting or trying to gain access to and exploit.

I do think we can achieve information dominance; it's probably easier to maintain that dominance for shorter periods of time and over specific networks because like ourselves our potential adversaries are always thinking about how to overcome our defenses.

CHIPS: Retired Vice Adm. John Michael McConnell, former director of national intelligence, told the Senate Commerce Committee at a hearing Feb. 23 that the United States was the "most vulnerable" target for a massive, crippling cyber attack, primarily because the country is also "the most connected" to the Web, and that if the U.S. were in a cyber war today, we would lose. Would you agree?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: I think that it is more complex than that. We are the most connected, networked nation on earth. But because we are so connected, because we are so open with our networks; the U.S. is more vulnerable to cyber attacks than closed societies. Our adversaries, at least some of our adversaries, are eroding what I think are some of our longstanding warfighting advantages by leveraging low cost capabilities to disrupt — or potentially deny our communications. So I do think in some respects, we are in a war; our networks are being probed and penetrated on a daily basis. We haven't seen truly crippling attacks on our networks, but I grow increasingly concerned about the defenses of our networks.

CHIPS: When it comes to policy and law in regard to waging cyber warfare and defending against it and prosecuting those who engage in it — does the Navy have sufficient higher level guidance and room to maneuver in this new domain?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: I think we have enough guidance to take the steps that we are taking. We do have enough guidance to organize, to move out with other organizations in the Department of Defense, but I don't believe we have all of the right laws or policies for the long term. We are still using what I call Industrial Age mindsets, and we are still using those preinformation era laws and policies, so it is really important for the lawyers and the policy makers to be thinking through how the policies and law need to evolve.

We are in the midst of a national dialogue at the moment regarding how we protect both our networks and, at the same time, protect our civil liberties. I don't think that dialogue has concluded, and I would expect in the years ahead a greater clarity of thought and precision in the development of additional laws and policies.

CHIPS: In a nutshell, the need for actionable intelligence delivered to the right organization at the right time seems to be the overarching mandate for N2/N6. Is this a fair assessment — or is your mandate much broader?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: This is the mandate for the Information Dominance Corps, the professionals who deal with information in the Navy. But in addition to actionable intelligence, they need to provide assured communications, and that means communications and networks that are defended, and that commanders and operating forces can use them.

In terms of N2/N6's mandate, I think actionable intelligence is just one aspect of the job. I think the larger mandate that the CNO has given me is to take a holistic approach to how we manage and resource the Navy's information capabilities. Part of that is he has asked us to develop new concepts, new strategies, and more improved architectures that will, in essence, chart our course for the future — that will break down barriers — and ultimately deliver much more robust information capabilities for the Navy.

These barriers include the platform-focused manner in which the Navy procures its warfighting capabilities. For years we have procured our platforms — ships, submarines and aircraft — with an eye to their weapons and weapons delivery systems. We then built our warfighting capabilities around those platforms. Unfortunately, communications, networks, intelligence, and other information-based capabilities that were critical to the effective employment of those platforms were secondary considerations.

Today, we need to retool our programming and acquisition process, and seek capabilities-based solutions. We need to look across all platforms and ensure we are delivering fully integrated solutions. Our objective is for every platform to be a sensor, for every sensor to be networked, and for every shooter to be capable of using data derived from any sensor.

CHIPS: Can you talk about N2/N6's responsibility to "boldly introduce game-changing strategies and concepts"? Does this mean that the Navy hasn't been bold enough in the past or too risk averse to take a leap of faith in new ideas or breaking down old paradigms?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: Let me answer that in two ways. First, the Navy is not risk averse at all. I think we have a history and tradition over the last 100 years of being innovative. We introduced naval aviation in between World War I and II, and really prepared ourselves for World War II — pretty innovative moves at the time.

In the 1950s, we introduced nuclear power. I think that was extremely bold, shifting from steam to nuclear power.

Most people don't realize that back in the 1960s, the U.S. Navy operated more than 700 unmanned aerial vehicles from our surface ships — that was hardly risk averse at the time. What we found though is that the technology was very immature for those UAVs, and we lost an awful lot of them because the control mechanisms didn't work well. So the Navy went away from using UAVs for about four decades, and now, with advanced technology, we are starting to embrace unmanned capabilities again.

The other thing I would say, especially in the cyber arena, [now deceased] Vice Adm. Art Cebrowski was one of the leading thinkers in net-centric warfare. He, and many others, wrote about and led the development of the netted warfighting concept. Those writings and that dialogue that occurred in the mid- 1990s basically set us in great shape for where we are today.

In terms of our unmanned capabilities and our net-centric or cyber capabilities, we, along with the other services, have been focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots over the last 10 years, and while it may look like we didn't take advantage of opportunities, I think there was a confluence of many different events in the last couple of years that have permitted us to really jump forward. Adm. Roughead, when he made his decisions, said we are going to go very bold; we aren't going to take any half steps. So I think you are seeing the Navy taking bold steps in both information and unmanned capabilities.

CHIPS: Can you talk about the Information Dominance Corps?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: Our goal is pretty simple. In essence, my vision is to recruit, hire, educate and then retain the world-renowned, world-class workforce in the information arena — anything less than that is underachieving. To do that, we need to change some of the processes we have for how we recruit, how we hire, and certainly we need to alter our training and education structures. Right now we train by stovepipes, our intent is to broaden, as well as deepen, the skill sets of the members of the Information Dominance Corps.

It is about getting the right people in, incentivizing them, encouraging them, giving them opportunities and building their professional skills so they are a much improved workforce over old folks like me.

CHIPS: The Navy already has a program for allowing, for example, Information Systems Technicians, to get professional certifications through Microsoft, are you talking about training beyond that?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: Here is how we operate right now. If you are a naval intelligence officer, you get trained in the business of intelligence. If you are an information professional, you get trained in network management, communications, and command and control. But neither one gets trained in the other area. So the intelligence officer is not trained in networks, nor is the information professional trained in intelligence.

It is my belief, and the CNO's, that we need professionals who understand their specific skill areas, but also they need to have a broader perspective. I talked about stovepipes and Stonewall Jackson's knowledge of the environment. Oceanographers and meteorologists in the Navy are part of the Information Dominance Corps. Oceanographers, who I believe are the best in the world, know the operating maritime environment extremely well. But they don't know networks and communications as well nor do they have the background in intelligence.

We are trying to bridge the [knowledge] gaps between all of our information professionals, have people understand the environment, have them understand space and how space supports all of our activities, to understand the various elements of intelligence, cyber warfare, network management, and command and control. What we are asking of our future workforce is to be much more knowledgeable than they are today.

You mentioned Microsoft certifications, a certain group in the workforce need to have Microsoft certifications, other members need to be aware, and certainly the leaders need to be aware of who needs Microsoft certifications, and how to get them. A small segment of the workforce probably just needs to vaguely understand that Microsoft certifies people, but we need to do a deepening of our entire knowledge base for the Information Dominance Corps. We protect ourselves by barriers between those disciplines, and I think those barriers need to come down.

CHIPS: The Corps will need to have knowledge beyond their specialties. So beyond what Information Professional Officers are required to know as IPs, they will also need to have an overarching understanding of all the information domains in the Navy. And that is in development right now?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: Yes, it is. We are creating a common PQS, Professional Qualification Standard, across all of our disciplines. We are going to have everyone trained to that common qualification standard, and then if you are specialized; if you're an oceanographer, then you will go deep into your oceanography related qualifications. But everyone will at least have a common understanding across the information domain.

CHIPS:That's pretty exciting.

Vice Adm. Dorsett: It is. We've looked at a grandfathering approach. What happens to those folks like myself who have been in the Navy for 32 years, do we just get qualified automatically because of our past experiences? What we have chosen to do is take the high ground, and those of us who have been around awhile are going to have to take an exam to get qualified across the Information Dominance Corps.

CHIPS: Do you think it will be hard to adjust to this change for those older members in these specialized domains?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: It will be hard for some who have focused their entire career on their community or specialty skill and don't necessarily think of themselves as part of the Information Dominance Corps. I think that is probably a small minority of people; those folks will be more challenged than the young adults coming in. Young adults coming in will see the benefit of not only being specialized in one key area but then also being broadly trained across the board.

CHIPS: I talk to young ITs; they love what they are doing, and they are always eager for more training.

Vice Adm. Dorsett: Sure, and by broadening their training, there will be more career opportunities open to them than those currently in the program. That should be exciting for many folks. Other folks will be pleased just to stay in their current business line, if you will.

CHIPS: Industry will be looking at recruiting the same movers and shakers that you are interested in. Have you looked at recruiting incentives?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: Yes, there are a couple of incentives that we are looking at right now. The first incentive that the Chief of Naval Personnel came up with is to give ROTC scholarships to individuals who do well in the U.S. Cyber Challenge competitions. I understand that to do well in this competition you actually have to hack into a certain program.

From the Chief of Naval Personnel's perspective, these are the kind of people we want to draw into the Navy. He's also looking at options for bringing people into the workforce in nontraditional ways. We haven't finalized anything so it would be premature for me to give you any examples, but I would expect the Navy in the months ahead to be offering unique opportunities that we haven't offered previously to people with cyber expertise.

CHIPS: Do you foresee the education, reputation and expertise of the Information Dominance Corps becoming on par with the elite Nuclear Navy?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: Absolutely. The creation of the Information Dominance Corps is a revolution on par with past transformations. The Nuclear Navy is an outstanding example of what we can achieve when we lean far forward and invest in the recruiting, education and training of our workforce. We are fully prepared to make the investment in our people, and their education and training, to gain the in-depth expertise we require in all information-centric disciplines. Developing world-class expertise across an elite group of information professionals, will be the means by which we earn the same reputation for excellence as the Nuclear Navy. More importantly, in the process we will revolutionize Navy warfighting capabilities.

CHIPS: Can you talk about how you will be working with the other service components to U.S. Cyber Command?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: I think all the services are aligning themselves up appropriately and effectively for supporting the U.S. Cyber Command.

All of the services have had discussions with the prospective Cyber Commander, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, and we have all presented our plans for how we are going to organize, how we are going to provide forces, and how we are going to work. The U.S. Cyber Command, the pre-organization, has started to develop a concept of operations, and they brought in all of the services in the meetings so we are all doing that together. I'm very pleased that this is truly a joint DoD-wide approach.

Our relationship with the other service component commanders will be run through Vice Adm. McCullough who is the Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet commander. He will be the primary conduit conducting operational cyber activities for the Navy; he is already located in Fort Meade, Md., the prospective home of the U.S. Cyber Command, so I think we have set ourselves up for success in that regard.

CHIPS: At the 2010 West conference in San Diego, Adm. Roughead said that the Navy's cyber mission is still evolving and there is much work to be done with 10th Fleet in the lead. Where do you hope the Navy will be in a year from now — and five years from now in regard to cyber warfare and working effectively in this new domain?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: A year from now, our Fleet Cyber Command will be fully operational; it will not just be organizing itself, which is where it is right now. It will be focused on actual planning cyber defenses and cyber operations as a component to the U.S. Cyber Command. I believe the Fleet Cyber Command will have an improved management capability over our operations. Its subordinate command, Naval Network Warfare Command, which is responsible for network management, network ops, network defense, will have more enhanced Host Based Security System (HBSS) software and procedural protections in place a year from now. In terms of our programs, a year from now, we will have provided additional funds to fix some shortfalls in our networks and command and control capabilities. In a year you can't do a tremendous amount, but we will be headed in the right direction.

In a year from now, our most significant improvement will be in our Information Dominance Corps professionals. I mentioned a few of the initiatives we have [for the workforce]. I think we will look at ourselves dramatically different than we do today. We will be viewed as warfare professionals with a rigorous training and qualification program.

Probably several dozen of our officers will have been assigned in key billets across the information disciplines. There are about 25 officers that we are reassigning right now. If you are an intelligence officer, you are moving to a cyber job. If you are a cyber officer, you are perhaps moving into a signals intelligence job. In a year from now we will have made significant progress [in crossing training].

Five years from now, our goal is to be viewed as the nation's premier cyber organization, that we will be viewed as full partners with the other services, and the key component to U.S. Cyber Command. We aren't competing with the other services; we set our standards high so I think that is the appropriate goal to have.

I think the Fleet Cyber Command will be conducting complex cyber activities five years from now. Our operational commanders in the Navy will view cyber, perhaps, as the very first arrow out of the quiver as we plan and prepare for a military operation. Instead of information just being a supporting function, information will be a main battery of the Navy. I think that isn't only our goal — but we will actually be there in five years.

CHIPS: Do you have any other comments?

Vice Adm. Dorsett: You've mentioned it — this is exciting. These are extremely exciting times not just for the Navy but across the Department of Defense — whether it is the investments we are making in cyber, whether it's the Navy partnering with the Air Force for some unmanned capabilities, or the information management and technologies that we are putting out on the battlefield in Afghanistan today.

The flow of information has never been more important for the nation. The ability for us to network and deliver Information Age capabilities is truly exciting. The people in the information profession, especially in the Navy, are tremendously excited about the opportunities these days.

For Vice Adm. Dorsett's biography and more Navy news, go to

Vice Adm. Jack Dorsett
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