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CHIPS Articles: Interview with Rear Adm. Kenneth D. Slaght

Interview with Rear Adm. Kenneth D. Slaght
By CHIPS Magazine - October-December 2001
Rear Admiral Ken Slaght is Commander Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. He is responsible for development, acquisition, and life cycle management of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for the U.S. Navy, and select Marine Corps and joint service programs.

SPAWAR is one of the Navy's three major acquisition commands. SPAWAR employs approximately 8,000 military and civilian employees worldwide with an annual budget of nearly $6 billion.

CHIPS: The Program Executive Officer for Information Technology (PEO-IT), Joseph Cipriano and the Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer (DON CIO), Dan Porter talked about the essentiality of re-purposing networks from command assets to Navy-wide assets via the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) at Connecting Technology Spring 2001. What is SPAWAR doing to achieve this objective?

Rear Adm. Slaght: What we really need to do now is create the linkage between NMCI and IT-21. NMCI takes the big leap forward in terms of turning the individual networks that we have on the shore infrastructure side to an almost utility-like delivery right down to the desktop. Now we need to link that with IT-21, which is the afloat part of our backbone infrastructure. We are thinking through how we can create all the linkages between IT-21 and NMCI and in the future perhaps even look at providing NMCI like capability on the IT-21 side as well. In other words, on the shipboard side this becomes a service and a utility just as we have done with NMCI [for shore commands]. We also have a large satellite and wireless capability that we have to incorporate as well.

CHIPS: CNO directed the establishment of Task Force Web to: Web enable the Navy, recommend architectural and programmatic changes, review all operational requirements documents for current and future IT acquisitions, advise CNO on all future and emerging Web technologies and maintain and evolve the overarching Navy Web blueprint. I have read that SPAWAR has done much in this effort. Can you talk about some of the things SPAWAR has done to assist the Task Force Web?

Rear Adm. Slaght: Sure can. We've actually come at it from two different angles. In the original tasker [from Task Force Web], they asked all Navy commands to submit proposals for how they would accelerate the implementation of their programs into a Web-enabled environment so we can start heading toward a common portal for the Navy. SPAWAR took a look at all our programs and submitted close to 55-programs that could be accelerated and put into a Web-enabled single Navy portal. We worked closely with our field activity and our program offices to come up with that list and provide the details both from a technical and programmatic point of view on how we would do that.

The feedback we received from Ms. [Monica R.] Shephard, Director, Task Force Web, was that our proposal was one of the two best submissions received—the other one was from the Bureau of Naval Personnel. As it turns out, our ITC [Space and Naval Warfare Information Technology Center] New Orleans was a big contributor to the Bureau's submission because they are the Program Managers for a number of the Bureau's programs.

I think from that aspect, SPAWAR hit a homerun in terms of responding to the call to push programs into a Web-enabled environment much sooner than originally scheduled. We are pushing to get those first 55 programs up; it could be as early as the end of this year. We are sequencing other programs each year after that. The other part that we provide is technical support to the Task Force Web team in the form of engineers and some of our top people to work all the different issues in creating the single portal for the Navy. We have a set of our best engineers, who have been traveling to Washington [D.C.] on a rotational basis.

We also have provided laboratory and early infrastructure support because much of what you do when you stand up portals is provide Web hosting capabilities. So combined with facilities we already have in place as well as new facilities that will come on line as a result of NMCI, we are working with Task Force Web to support them from an infrastructure perspective. We recognize that for the future of the Navy, Task Force Web is a core element and because SPAWAR is so heavily involved in this part of Navy business we have been pushing this very hard from our end and support it in our programs, with our people and our infrastructure.

CHIPS: In your brief to the C4ISR Symposium 2001, you discussed the importance of Horizontal Integration (HI) in providing end-to-end capability improvements in five key areas of Command & Control (C2): Situation Awareness, Time Critical Strike, Collaborative Planning, Force Sustainment and Deliberate & Crisis Planning. Could you please explain how this is accomplished?

Rear Adm. Slaght: When you think about all those key areas within command and control, they exist today as a series of separate formal programs. You have applications, the software side, the infrastructure, the hardware behind to connect it, the LAN backbones as well as the communications piece. What Horizontal Integration does is take us to the beginning of the program and requires us to do the upfront analysis and systems engineering to integrate programs at the beginning rather than trying to interface them at the end, which the Navy has traditionally done in the past. As we rolled out individual programs (some people would call those stovepipe-like programs) on a ship we had to figure out how to interface those programs and patch them together.

For instance in Time Critical Strike, you are very concerned with the latency of your data, and how quickly you can move data between the C2 architectures. Horizontal Integration really requires us to look at the applications and the networks in terms of the processing engines that are going to process that data and the communications pipes that are going to move that data around the network. It requires us to do the upfront systems engineering analysis and to understand where the choke points are in the architecture that will slow data down so we can open up those choke points, move that data, and reduce latency time.

We need to link all these elements in the worldwide information grid together from a sensor down to communications through the network and the applications in the backbone—literally move data down to the weapons to exchange data back and forth to the engagement part of the grid-weapons control. So we can take sensor data, identify it with tracks and targets—and engage it with weapons within the engagement grid. We have to horizontally integrate all aspects of that grid to enable instantaneous transfer of information and knowledge to the warfighter.

We have an opportunity to do that with our programs within SPAWAR and it also requires us to work very closely with our sister SYSCOMS and the programs they field. For instance, NAVSEA fields combat systems—part of the systems that we interface with. We work with NAVAIR, who does much of the mission planning and target allocation for many of the air programs.

Beyond just the Navy, we work with the other Services because they also provide elements in the grid. For example, a JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems) aircraft keeps track of ground tracks—we have to be able to integrate that into our programs to be able to use those ground tracks as part of the common operational picture. The ability to exchange data across the multitude of databases is critical for Collaborative Planning and Force Sustainment—this is the logistics trail.

We need to not only tap into Navy logistics databases but we must also be able to tap and exchange data with joint logistics databases. If you engineer at the front end, you understand where the interfaces are and what the standards should be, and as a result you can field a much more interoperable, seamless system at the end of the process that we call Horizontal Integration.

CHIPS: Also in your brief you said "the road to Joint-ability runs through SPAWAR." How is this so?

Rear Adm. Slaght: It ties back to what we just talked about in the previous question. SPAWAR not only has visibility into the systems that we field but because we go through this process called Horizontal Integration it requires us to take a look at any program that is going to contribute to the warfighter in a joint environment. We all recognize that almost without exception any environment that our warfighter is in is going to be a joint and coalition environment.

We at SPAWAR look at ourselves as being a key integrator of those kinds of programs, while we may not own or field all the programs that are going to support the warfighter in a joint environment, it is pretty safe to say that most of our programs will be integrated into that joint warfighting environment. So we think of ourselves as the integrator who will facilitate and enable joint-ability for the Navy in a C4I warfighting environment.

CHIPS: Is the Knowledge Wall on the USS Coronado (AGF-11) and the Naval War College, in addition to the programs you spoke about in the C4I plan part of the things that SPAWAR is doing to achieve Knowledge Superiority for the warfighter?

Rear Adm. Slaght: Absolutely, the Knowledge Wall is probably one of the more tangible pieces of our Knowledge Superiority efforts. It is an innovative way for a command center to display multiple reconfigurable screens of information for any tactical or strategic situation. It is the front end—the single portal where warfighters get visibility into all the elements that they need to have cognizance of in any kind of a warfighting environment.

The Knowledge Wall, developed at our research labs at SPAWAR Systems Center San Diego, is the first step in innovation to reconfigure and display information on the fly in a Web-enabled environment. It allows the warfighter to configure what he is visualizing based on the scenario he needs. If he needs to look at a big operational picture—he can have the common operational picture in front of him, or if he needs to quickly move into a chat room in a collaborative environment or white-board exercise to talk about a specific piece of an evolution he can do that. He is able to use search engines to access information in various databases.

It is just one innovative step, eventually it will become any warfighters' desktop to quickly reconfigure and scale towards the operational picture that they are interested in. It can be a large scale, big theater picture or it can get right down to individual tactical operations to understand what is going on with particular warfighting elements.

It has to be joint—it has to show not only what is going on with Navy assets, but what is also going on with other Services' assets, coalition and allied assets, and bring these all into one common operational picture. As you said, the Knowledge Wall is on the Coronado, it is also being fielded on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). This is part of our rapid prototyping efforts to put these capabilities into the hands of the warfighters today—and also put the technicians with it to instantly evolve and improve these capabilities based on direct feedback from the warfighters.

So when a warfighter says, I wish this capability would do something a little different—the technician will be in place literally, to improve it on the fly. Not only make it operate as it was originally designed but improve the design while it is in the hands of the warfighter used in real operational scenarios. We are excited about that new aspect of the business; we are working with ships in their work up cycles, training cycles, and into their deployments to improve these capabilities so that when the ships come back these new capabilities are even better than we originally envisioned.

CHIPS: I read on the SPAWAR home page that the Navy proposes designing a "blank page" for the electronics package for new ships to ensure the latest electronics systems are onboard. Are the electronics systems being installed at the end of the shipbuilding process now?

Rear Adm. Slaght: I think we are getting closer to it. This has always been one of the key challenges—working with the shipbuilders and the shipyards. They have a challenge—they are designing spaces—cutting metal and figuring out how much power and air conditioning to put in those spaces. These are decisions that have to be made fairly early in the building process. It takes a long time to build a ship—it is a lot harder to build a ship than to build an electronics component and put it in a space. We are constantly working on smarter and better ways to meet that challenge.

One of the current methods used today is to define the overall conditions that you are going to need your equipment to operate in, for example, in terms of temperature. As the processing engines get better and the applications get more capable, the fundamentals of these pieces of equipment stay the same—they still operate on 120 or 220 volts of power, they still require air conditioning and those kinds of things. That is fairly easy to define one to three years in advance. So we define it in terms of the environmental package—have the space built and then install the latest and greatest box. This can be within a year of the ship's completion. Once you are in that kind of timeframe—12 to 18 months, you are very much in the current, state-of-the-art technology cycle. We are working with shipyards to do that today.

Ships like DD 21 [The Navy's Zumwalt-class 21st Century Destroyer, is the first in a family of 21st century surface combatants. Spurred by technological advances, DD 21 will incorporate revolutionary design concepts and combat capabilities needed for 21st century warfare.] will probably take that a step further in how we define those environmental packages early enough in the process, but yet wait until the very last minute to plug in whatever the components are. Other things that are going to help in the future are new capabilities we are just beginning to see today, for example—modular radios.

We are starting to build modular radios that are equivalent to what we see in PCs today. They are software re-programmable radios. Today when I define a radio, I'm defining it in a hardware sense because it requires specific cards for specific waveforms. In the future these waveforms will all be software. I will be able to design a basic space for a radio that will go in a certain rack and within days of the ship's commissioning, I can load the latest and greatest software waveforms for that radio. Then the ship will truly be on the leading edge of technology.

CHIPS: IT changes have caused a revolution in military processes. What changes do you see for the Department and for SPAWAR within the next five years?

Rear Adm. Slaght: I think what we are going to see is the true coming together of the Global Information Grid. Fleet communication has always been a challenge for the Navy mainly because we are a global maritime force. We move information in the network to a mobile force, particularly to a mobile force that operates over open oceans, where the ability to connect to the network is a challenge because most of the connections into the network are terrestrial and even the commercial satellites today are still focused over land masses.

This is one of the areas that will see vast improvements over the next five years—everything from putting more capability into space to moving information over the surface of the world. I think you'll see ways to move information beneath the water as well. We are starting to look at laser-based communications and those sorts of things. Improvements will be driven by breakthroughs in antenna technology and breakthroughs in how we manage information flow over the network so we can prioritize it; and move it over any path that we have access to.

The commercial sector, as well is starting to move out on all the wireless connections into the Internet. The Internet and the backbone of it are going to continue to be the driving forces, and the ability to access information from common portals. I think we will see huge technology leaps in that area. SPAWAR is going to be an integral part of that. The Navy will start to manage its information in a more centralized fashion doing things like NMCI and buying information as a utility. We will see this expand in the future.

I know we will continue to evolve this from a joint perspective as well. I suspect we will see initiative to build stronger ties among the Services to field this capability. We'll see how it plays out but it is absolutely critical that we have strong linkages so we are all doing things like Horizontal Integration across our programs for better integration as we design and field programs instead of trying to patch them together after we field them.

CHIPS: In the SPAWAR Strategic Plan it mentions a need to carefully examine future workforce competency needs and a program for succession involving mentoring, and more formal development of technical, managerial and leadership skills. How is this being done?

Rear Adm. Slaght: First, it is important to note that SPAWAR is almost 90-95 percent manned with government civilians, who are engineers, logisticians, financial experts, etc. We are heavily vested in the civilian sector but we still have the same challenges that we have on the military side of the equation. We have to be able to recruit young people out of college, willing to come into government service to be part of this integration team that we envision for SPAWAR in the future. We need to be able to attract them with a number of different elements. One area where we don't compete very well, and we should never expect to is—money—being able to offer money comparable to what big corporations can offer engineers.

But what we can offer to people coming out of college that they won't necessarily find in some of the big corporations or the large IT businesses is the ability to get early leadership experience and the ability to run fairly large programs as very junior engineers, financial experts and logisticians. They are able to take on a lot more responsibility earlier in their careers than they would in private industry. When we talk with the young generation coming out of college today that is a pretty intriguing element for them. They may be willing to take a little less money to get that experience and scope of leadership early in their career. Then you have to be able to keep them.

Some of the elements that you mentioned are going to be very important and we have to strengthen those elements in the future. When you give people those kinds of responsibilities early in their career-expanded leadership, managing fairly large programs, you want to empower them and give them all the tools they need to do that. One of these tools is mentoring-they need to fall back on people who have been in the business and get their advice on how to continue to improve their careers and do better in what they are doing. You don't want to just give them the responsibility-cut them loose, and let them sink or swim on their own. You really have to mentor them along. These things help retain your workforce.

There is some concern across the Department of Defense that our workforce is aging in an aggregate sense—half of the civilian workforce will be eligible to retire in the next five to 10 years. While this is not specifically true for SPAWAR demographics, we do have to be concerned that we continue to bring in and retain new talent—young engineers, logisticians and financial managers. We also have to refresh the workforce. We want people to progress in their careers and when the time is right to move on and let others move up into leadership positions. We want to continually refresh at the top and have people move through the organization. From a workforce point of view, the real key is retention.

We are having pretty good luck getting people in early but the generation coming out of colleges today-again in the aggregate-tend to move from job to job at a fairly frequent pace. The real challenge is keeping them in government—offer them the kinds of things that will excite them but also give them stability. You can't do it all with money—you have to provide mentorship, quality of life in the workplace and time with their families. I think we should help them balance their lives and help to give them time with their families. We in the government are in a better position to offer that balanced approach to a career than you will find in the commercial sector.

CHIPS: With the change in workforce demographics have you seen any evidence of the corporate culture changing, for example, in faster decision-making?

Rear Adm. Slaght: I think the real change in the corporate culture will be a move to things like enterprise resource planning, what we call ERP. Today what probably keeps us from making decisions as fast as we'd like is our inability to get the real data we need to make those decisions. The problem is that everybody has built their processes on a whole series of different tools that cannot communicate with each other. We need the discipline to ensure a common set of tools for process building. SPAWAR is implementing the same common tool set and set of disciplined processes for a [Navy] Working Capital Fund that we are doing in SPAWARSYSCEN San Diego. They went live on that system on 1 July. I see this process as being the means to get to answers and make smart decisions on a very timely basis. I think this is going to be the key to success in the future.

CHIPS: When you talked earlier about quality of life issues and the importance of responsibility as retention tools, were you speaking to military personnel as well?

Rear Adm. Slaght: Absolutely, the models for the military tend to be a little different than on the civilian side. First and foremost, we want our military engineers, logisticians and financial managers to have fleet experience. What this means is that they are filling fleet jobs early in their careers to understand what is going on in the fleet. They are able to bring that understanding and experience back into our program offices and infuse that operational perspective into balance with our civilian workforce so that we have the right balance between engineering, logistics and financial expertise. I think this is the right balance and we need to continue in this way. The more operational experience infused into the program office, the more credibility we are going to have with our customer-the fleet.

What attracts the junior officers are the same things [that attract civilian personnel] but when JOs are at sea they get a tremendous amount of experience and leadership earlier in their careers compared to their civilian counterparts. When they have been running a department or division onboard ship, they want to be able to come aboard a SYSCOM and do the same thing. We have to ensure that divisions that we are going to fill with junior offices have those kinds of challenges because if they don't they will be disappointed, and you aren't going to find anybody else coming behind them. The word spreads pretty rapidly. This has always been a challenge-ensuring that young officers are given leadership responsibilities commensurate with what they were doing at sea except that where they were driving the best-in terms of the best ships and airplanes, now they can help build the best.

CHIPS: Since you received your commission in 1970 upon graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, you have witnessed many changes in military business processes and the IT operations of the Department. What changes have been most significant and exciting to you, as a Naval officer and as an IT professional?

Rear Adm. Slaght: I think the whole concept of network-centric warfare certainly was not heard of when I came into the Navy some years ago. What I have seen in the last five years (which is still a relatively short cycle time for revolutionary change) is that we, as an organization, understand the requirement for and are actively pursuing network-centric warfare-based warfighting capability. This has been a revolution for the Navy and it will continue to be revolutionary as we evolve and figure out how to operate in this environment. I have been lucky enough to be on the acquisition side of the equation since this revolution has taken place. We have been able to keep fairly good pace with it.

For instance, it was only about three ago that the Navy decided that if we were serious about network-centric warfare then we needed to put that capability to sea. Under the leadership of [retired] Admiral Clemmins, we came up with the concept of IT-21, where we provide end-to-end warfighting capability. It started with the Seventh Fleet and then CINCPACFLT and it has been an exciting time watching that grow. From a seed that was planted only about three years ago, by 1 October about 88 percent of the fleet will be online and connected to the network-that is what network-centric enablement is all about.

Recently we added the NMCI piece, which now brings the terrestrial infrastructure along at the same pace that IT-21 started. Now that we have the infrastructure in place we are working on managing the information across the Information Grid. We have initiatives for Web-enablement and ERP. I think the next great challenge in the next four to five years is going to be the management of information across the network and it will be just as exciting as the last five years.

This is a dream come true for me. I started out at SPAWAR about 10 years ago and I've watched this world of information technology evolve over that period of time. I started out in this business as a fresh-caught captain, I had been at sea and knew from an operational perspective how important information technology and network-centric warfare are [to the fleet]. I am in a leadership position now so that in the next three years I can make a difference and see that vision realized. I am really excited about leading SPAWAR and being part of the Navy team to make network-centric warfare happen for the Navy.

Photo of Rear Admiral Kenneth D. Slaght
Rear Admiral Kenneth D. Slaght
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