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Top admiral outlines future of at-sea information-sharing

Jan. 28, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Rear Adm. Christian Becker poses with equipment that will make up the Navy's new afloat networking system. It's being tested in San Diego before installation.
Rear Adm. Christian Becker poses with equipment that will make up the Navy's new afloat networking system. It's being tested in San Diego before installation. (Rick Naystatt/Navy)

Nearly 200 warships will have brand-new computer networks in the next eight years, the Navy says. That means more bandwidth for missions, more security — and, possibly, more online access for sailors via Wi-Fi hotspots.

The Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services system has been installed on two destroyers so far, with more DDGs and two aircraft carriers on tap for later this year. The Navy’s Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence leads those installations — and has already learned some lessons that will make the fleetwide upgrade to CANES an easier shift for sailors.

The head of that office, Rear Adm. Christian Becker, recently spoke with Barry Rosenberg, editor of C4ISR & Networks — a sister publication of Navy Times — about CANES and Navy satellite communications. Becker, a former electronic warfare aviator, also serves as PEO for the Navy’s Space Systems program.

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and space.

Q. With support of the war fighter a given, what’s at the top of your to-do list?

A. Well, first let me say thanks for starting with support of the war fighter, because for us it starts there and it ends there. ... In terms of implementation, CANES is the topic that I see every day and touch in some way, shape, or size. And the reason for that is not that it’s necessarily more important than the rest of the portfolio, but in its way it is fundamental to many of the initiatives that we have for delivering C4I capabilities to the fleet. Because as we install CANES we create a platform where we can evolve our capabilities. ... We can control more effectively our cost of capabilities that ride on top of that platform. And then, of course, that brings with it our ability to defend our capabilities — our cybersecurity posture — in ways that are more effective both for cost and the mission.

Q. What would be some of those evolved capabilities that CANES will facilitate?

A. For starters, simple things like running modernized operating systems. The operating systems that exist today on some of those legacy networks are not sustainable. CANES allows us to bring in current operating systems and then upgrade or stay current with future changes to those operating systems in ways that are more easily adapted or easily implemented than the current structure.

To give you some background, we developed networks to meet fleet capabilities in product-oriented ways that led to multiple networks. With CANES, we try to become more intentional about delivering that platform upon which we can create or incorporate new mission capabilities. That’s everything that is as fundamental as enabling the control, if you will, of the operating systems to maintaining pace with any cybersecurity vulnerabilities that develop.

Q. And CANES is only part of the picture.

A. To create that platform, I also need to make sure that I can move information toward the edge of the platforms, and that’s where I need Automated Digital Network System. ADNS allows us to pick the way in which we can most effectively move information from the platform toward our off-board capability.

Very loosely, think of it as your router. Whether you have cable or fiber or Wi-Fi, how’s it going to find the right place to get off to the next transport mechanism? ADNS allows us to pick the path we will use to get off the ship.

The next step is the Navy Multiband Terminal, which allows us to access a number of satellite communications capabilities. So once I put together that trifecta of CANES, ADNS and NMT, I have access to the rest of the network with a capital “N,” and that platform becomes an extension of that network and becomes a node — a fully informed and plugged-in node of that network.

I’m an aviator, so here’s the metaphor I use. When I started flying about three decades ago, we had A-6s and a couple of versions of those in the inventory. We had A-7s, F-14s and F/A-18s, each with a couple of different versions. So we had many strike platforms. Today we have the Super Hornets, F/A-18E/F. We’ve compressed those missions from the A-6, A-7, the F-14 and the earlier F/A-18s, which are now celebrating their 35th anniversary, into the Super Hornet.

What a tremendous platform the Super Hornet is. But without the sensors, without the radar, without the communication systems, without the self-protection mechanisms, without the weapon systems that hang on the wings, without all those other features, it’s a really cool airplane but it’s not a mission-capable platform.

I can deliver the trifecta of CANES, ADNS and NMT, but then I need to develop, deliver and sustain the capabilities and the applications that ride on that network. Using the metaphor of the Super Hornet, once we deliver that platform we can then take that same capability to support those applications that deliver the mission space of C4I.

Q. Installation of the first CANES systems on the destroyer McCampbell and Milius has been completed, and you’re moving ahead on additional installations, but you’ve been hindered by the sequester and other issues. Please bring me up to date on CANES installation.

A.The first installation of any new system is always difficult. And we tried to lead-turn as much as possible the difficulties that we’ll see in a new platform. But we’ve had some learning to get through.

We’ve completed the installation on McCampbell, which is part of our forward-deployed naval forces, operating out of Japan. Within days of completing the installation, McCampbell was en route to support Operation Damayan, the relief effort in the Philippines.

First indications are that McCampbell operated very successfully using CANES, and it was a significant improvement to the previous network that she operated. That’s really good, positive news. We also identified some issues, and we were glad to hear about those because that gives us the opportunity to roll what I call “lessons observed” into lessons learned by acting on them with future installations.

Q. Can you tell me about some of those “lessons observed”?

A. Lessons learned have run the gamut from logistics to hardware. There were some simple things like making sure that we conduct all of the necessary logistics preparations for things like printer toner. We knew that we might have an issue there, and sure enough we did. And so we’ve looked to see how we can improve some of that logistics tail for the hardware. Early on, even with Milius, we understood that our training was not where it needed to be. And the performance of our preparation was insufficient to prepare our sailors to operate the system. We’re working on that. And so far the feedback on the changes to our training has been positive, but we will keep at it until we have it right.

We’re still working initial operational testing on Milius. That’s brought its own challenges. And with both McCampbell and Milius, we discovered a hardware issue that we needed to address with our power supply system. We’ve addressed it and fixed that in those vessels and also in future installations.

We’re underway with installations on [the destroyers] Laboon and McFaul, and Chafee as well. In addition, we’re installing CANES on our first big decks — the [amphibious assault ship] Wasp, as well as two aircraft carriers, the John C. Stennis and the Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Q. How many CANES installations do you expect in the fiscal 2014-15 time frame?

A. It’s what I’ve determined is our mission statement, which is to develop, deploy and sustain the most effective information dominance capabilities our nation can afford.

How many installations can we afford in FY ’14? That’ll be driven both by the budget, but also by the fleet’s mission needs.■

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