Command and control (C2) is an integral part of today’s advanced information technologies. Today, technologies aim to leverage efficiencies such as the need to centralize data, and enhance security protection measures of that data in order to allow proficient and timely use of information for rapid decision making. In the modern era, computer systems and equipment have increasingly relied upon computer networks to communicate and disseminate information both internally and externally.
In addition, systems such as navigation and combat systems also require quick response times to potential hazards and threats. As a result, a higher level of system interoperability is required, thus lending to greater concerns in combat system interdependence on C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) systems.
The process of modernizing and upgrading a ship’s C4I systems is challenging. The levels of system-to-system interoperability and interconnected systems have grown more sophisticated due to increasingly complex software, hardware, and mission requirements. As such, the Navy’s systems are continually evolving in order to meet these dynamic requirements and ensure the highest levels of success in accomplishing the mission.
The correlation between combat systems and C4I systems is also known as C5I (command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, and intelligence). In recent times, the boundaries between C4I and combat systems have become blurred across the entire platform, and they often rely on one another. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), along with associated Program Executive Offices (PEOs), oversee many C4I and C5I systems throughout the Navy.
In 2013, SPAWAR launched and a pilot C5I system of systems operability testing process, called C5I SOT. This was in response to the fleet’s growing need and demand to fully test its C5I systems at the end of a ship’s maintenance availability period.
Cmdr. Ryan Mahelona works for the SPAWAR Fleet Readiness Directorate (FRD) as a C5I SOT Test Director. Mahelona was brought into SPAWAR in 2013 to help spearhead this effort and drive development of C5I and C4I interoperability testing in the fleet. He provided a written response to questions
Q: How did the C5I SOT testing program come about?
Mahelona: In general, C4I has gained high prominence particularly due to successes in asymmetric warfare. We’ve recognized that today’s technology allows unlikely adversaries to be able to level the playing field more, which poses a potential threat to our command and control. The high level of visibility on C4I has definitely triggered a need to efficiently and thoroughly install and test systems as they are upgraded and modernized in the fleet. At SPAWAR, we focus on delivering these systems to the fleet with augmented capabilities that can seamlessly integrate with existing legacy systems. In addition, we are working to ensure the warfighters have the tools and training to accomplish their missions before the start of the basic training phase.
Up until recently, we [the Navy] didn’t do a good job at testing C5I systems early in the ship’s O-FRP (Optimized Fleet Response Plan). General practice involved the installation of a C4I system and its associated SOVT (System Operability Verification Test) as independent events. Basic system functionalities, as well as various levels of intra-system and inter-system operability were verified via the SOVT. These checks spanned across some very basic functionality to others that were more complex interface checks.
Typically, the focus of these system checks centered specifically around the particular installed system and normally only checked direct interfaces. The prevailing mindset has been that if the system properly functioned and was validated by the SOVT, then congruently it meant that the system also properly interfaced with other shipboard systems.
In reality, time and time again, it [SOVT] wasn’t really keying in on what was happening. Ships frequently discovered significant issues despite the fact that the SOVTs had been completed. Most often the ship realized months later while conducting normal operations at sea or during a DGSIT (Deploying Group Systems Interoperability Test) that problems were never discovered, addressed and rectified. Meanwhile, all the system SMEs (subject matter experts) were long gone and ship’s force found itself placed in an untimely predicament in which they could not operate the brand new equipment. The ship was forced to spend its time finding and fixing discrepancies to obtain basic system functionality and operability.
Additionally, testing and troubleshooting practices were performed in a stove-piped manner. In many cases, C4I systems were tested independently from other shipboard C4I systems and non-C4I systems. Of course, this testing approach inherently created inefficiencies and difficulties when troubleshooting and attempting to localize root causes of these discrepancies.
Ultimately, these factors resulted in increased overall costs to the Navy in terms of exorbitant amounts of time, resources and money, while disrupting valuable training opportunities for the ship. In the end, many of the underlying root causes discovered were attributed to improper configuration settings and/or misconfigured equipment, which could’ve been avoided.
There is a dire need to provide more emphasis on testing interoperability between multiple systems or “systems of systems” on a ship prior to its basic training phase. The C5I SOT was designed to address these gaps in C5I testing. Up until recently, there has been little to no emphasis on C5I interoperability testing even though C5I has continued to grow in importance. Unlike the combat systems world in the Navy, which is required to complete a rigorous certification process, C4I assessments and testing generally does not occur until well into the advanced training phases.
The SOT is not intended to replace the SOVTs, but as a supplemental test. The SOVTs test system functionality, but does not address the capability to perform end-to-end mission threads. The SOT, on the other hand, does emphasize end-to-end mission threads involving C4I systems and with interfacing elements to combat systems. It also encompasses and ties together multiple new and legacy systems, to ensure data and information can be successfully delivered and shared as intended.
With the SOT, we’re effectively trying to move the discovery and resolution processes for system discrepancies earlier in the training cycle and as close to the end of availability. This will help it establish its baseline, capture trending issues, and allow the fleet the opportunity to gain proficiency on the systems.
Q: What is the biggest benefit of interoperability testing?
Mahelona: The biggest benefit is you know your equipment works like it’s supposed to, and you know that you can perform the mission going into the basic training phase. Part of the goal for a SOT is to find and fix discrepancies. Most of the discrepancies that are found are minor configuration issues that can be quickly addressed.
Occasionally, we run across bigger issues such as incompatibilities between systems that require immediate attention. SOTs bring a higher level of visibility to the process and to those issues to get the problems elevated to the appropriate program offices and leadership for quick resolution.
Secondarily, the ship’s crew obtains additional benefits in the form of training on how to use the new equipment. During these availabilities, the ships are often receiving a full suite of brand new systems and software upgrades. In many cases, the training curriculum in the school houses has not yet caught up with these new systems as they are being rolled out. In fact, the enhanced training on the end-to-end C5I systems is also not captured in school house training. Our SMEs provide over-the-shoulder training and impart best practices to these Sailors.
The SOTs help to validate the C5I operations after an avail[ability], and when performed in conjunction with the additional training provided from a “systems of systems” aspect, contribute tremendously to increased C4I readiness. Meanwhile, the Sailors also have the opportunity to use the equipment in a live environment instead of in a lab setting, and they become more intimately familiar with their own equipment from the start. As an example, we recently conducted a SOT for USS John C. Stennis, and the team provided over 1,500 man-hours of training to ship’s force.
Other benefits also include providing assistance with aligning resources and test partners. Some of our test partners also benefited in proficiency and equipment readiness due to our SMEs being onboard to assist them with initial setup as well as troubleshooting.
The SOT builds confidence in equipment and people from a commander’s perspective. It is also a morale booster for ship’s crew in knowing that they have been given the latest training and innovative tools to do the job. Recently, I’ve had various representatives from PEO IWS (Integrated Warfare Systems) and (Missile Defense Agency) MDA express to me that, “we’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time.” So I’m confident we’re on the right track.
How long have you been working on initiating this program?
Mahelona: The SOT concept actually came about in 2010. It was conducted on a limited scale by PMW 750 [Carrier and Air Integration Program Office] in PEO C4I for a couple of force-level ships. There were many successes that resulted from it, and so we took that idea, built upon it, and rolled it out on unit-level ships.
All of this was primarily driven by the Navy’s newest C4I system, CANES (Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services). Since we were fielding a brand new system with significantly far reaching impact on the network, we knew we needed something that could be used as a risk mitigator. Although that system is still a major driver for it, the SOT isn’t really focused on just that one system anymore. It has since morphed into a “tool” to mitigate risk on platforms receiving a number of high profile C5I systems. It is also being used on both unit level and force level ships. By design, it brings a C5I testing emphasis earlier into the training cycle and before the ship’s basic training phase.
Q: Who conducts the C5I SOT testing?
Mahelona: The SOT is a proactive approach. A team of approximately six to eight SMEs are onboard at the same time and work together to facilitate a collaborative and efficient way to troubleshoot and fix discrepancies. A test director leads the team, directs the testing, and orchestrates the entire planning and execution of the SOT.
The test director assists with alignment of resources and test partners, liaisons with senior leadership and various stakeholders, and tracks unresolved discrepancies. This ensures the highest degree of situational awareness, proper alignment of resources, de-confliction of competing schedules, and optimum collaboration. Overall, the test director and his team are only onboard for about a week.
Q: Does it add any time to the normal testing phases during a ship’s availability?
Mahelona: No. The testing is done in conjunction with a lot of ongoing events. The beauty of this process is that we’re de-conflicting schedules and manpower requirements all the time. It is not a serial process, but one that can be done in parallel as long as basic requirements such as uninterrupted power and chill water are provided.
The process starts months in advance before the actual event culminates and executes. In general, I think we’ve done a great job de-conflicting with other activities such as IWS (PEO IWS), ATG (Afloat Training Group), RMCs (Regional Maintenance Centers), and ship’s operational requirements to name a few. In fact, in my experience, it’s been a very positive, collaborative effort working together.
In the meantime, we’ve gotten smarter about how we do business. For example, we’ve recognized the value in aligning and scheduling our SOTs in conjunction with other ongoing assessments such as BMD (ballistic missile defense) tests and RMC assessments. We’re building a better understanding on how our testing can supplement these existing assessments without unnecessary duplication. Meanwhile, we see the added benefit of providing valuable training to the fleet on the new equipment without adding time to a ship’s availability.
Q: Who are the team players?
Mahelona: SPAWAR FRD [Fleet Readiness Directorate], SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC PAC), and SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic (SSC LANT).
We’ve also teamed up with PEO C4I, particularly PMW 760 [Surface Ship Integration Program Office] on unit level ships and PMW 750 who are conducting force level SOTs. ST1 C5I KSN [Surface Team One, C5I Knowledge Sharing Network] and CNRMC [Commander Navy Regional Maintenance Center] have also been very helpful in providing seed and sustainment funding, respectively, as we work to make this a more permanent activity in the fleet for the near future.
In addition, the TYCOMs (type commanders), and PEO IWS have also extensively participated. Currently, we are obtaining a permanent resource sponsor for the long term and feel that we are making positive headway in this direction.
In the meantime, we’re also working with the Surface Warfare Enterprise Current Readiness Cross Pillar Team (SWE CRCPT) and Future Readiness Cross Pillar Team (FRCPT) under the guidance of the Surface Warfare Enterprise Board of Directors (SWE BOD) to figure out the best way to incorporate it in our current processes for the long term and on a macro level. Essentially, the C5I SOT became a major driver in evaluating of the way the Navy performs its C4I/C5I assessments. As such, a working group is addressing this and working to bring greater emphasis and alignment of C5I.
Q: Will this testing be incorporated into all ships’ availability cycles down the road?
Mahelona: There are discussions ongoing as to whether this is something that all ship availabilities should warrant, and I’ve received inquiries from across the globe on this. However, like anything else, funding poses the greatest challenge. Although this initially started on ships receiving a CANES install, we’ve recognized the potential value for other ships and are working to expand our coverage.
At present, we’re working with primarily destroyer platforms and have recently expanded to carriers, various large deck amphibs, and are scheduled to conduct our first set of cruisers this year. Depending on the fiscal situation, we intend to begin targeting CANES and non-CANES ships going into an availability as potential candidates starting in 2016 and beyond.
Q: Does this increase the capability for the warfighter?
Mahelona: Definitely. The USS Curtis Wilbur [DDG 54] recently compled a C5I SOT and they greatly benefited from the training. I know that some of the discrepancies discovered would have taken months for the ship to realize, troubleshoot, find and fix without system SMEs onboard. Being an FDNF (Forward Deployed Naval Force) ship, time is critical especially when operational demands warrant the need to be ready.
It (C5I SOT) greatly enables and validates the capabilities for the warfighters to do their missions like BMD and being able to fast track information so the Sailors can do what they need to do. That’s what it’s all about.
Eventually, we intend to draw in elements of cybersecurity as part of our testing since this is an area of concern that has come to the forefront. In the end, it’s about allowing our warfighters to communicate and pass data in real time so leadership can make accurate and timely decisions to keep the ship and ultimately our country safe.
Krishna M. Jackson, Communications Specialist for SPAWAR Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, conducted the interview with Cmdr. Ryan Mahelona, SPAWAR Fleet Readiness Directorate, C5I SOT Test Director.
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