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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

WEST Conference Day One

By Jeff Ristine

SAN DIEGO -- As the U.S. military emerges from “the long war” of Afghanistan and Iraq and confronts potential rivals around the world, a top naval official said it will become vital to master cyberspace and embrace technology that has yet to emerge.

“We need to look to the future and be bold,” Vice Adm. Richard W. Hunt said Tuesday in the opening address at the WEST 2011 conference at the San Diego Convention Center. “Go after the new technology, put stuff out there and be back into experimentation.”

Hunt said threats to electronic technology need to be better understood and fixed. “They occur in many, many areas now,” the admiral said. “Changing so fast we don’t understand the vulnerabilities because we didn’t design the systems.”

“To protect ourselves in the cyber world may be as important as any particular warfare area that we have out there,” said Hunt. “If we lose our computers, if we lose our information exchange, the way we operate today cripples us completely.”

“After the Long War: What’s Next” is the theme of the three-day conference, co-sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) International. 

Confronting cyberspace issues are among a set of future challenges for the Navy that include violent extremism – a threat Hunt said is “here for a long time” – and competition for scarce resources, a challenge he associated with the rise of China and India.

“The constant in today’s environment is rapid change that necessitates that we be agile and adaptable in all that we do,” Hunt said. “We need to focus on the need to adapt to a changing environment.”

The admiral spoke admiringly of touring ships from other nations that contained large empty spaces for unforeseen, future needs, an improvement on the Navy practice of “uneconomically” ripping out and replacing equipment instead of expecting the need for change.

And while it may not be feasible to construct a “completely invulnerable wall” around essential computer infrastructure, Hunt said it is vital to understand when an attack is occurring. “Our ability to do the same to an adversary is equally important.”

More traditional vulnerabilities, however, shouldn’t be neglected either, Hunt said. “We need to go back … and make sure we plug those holes or you can attack us that way as easily, perhaps even easier, than you can through cyber attacks.”

Without reference to the political landmines sometimes associated with the subject, Hunt also mentioned climate change as a long-term concern for the Navy.  “What do we do if the water level rises, like some people predict that it will by 2040, by eight to maybe ten feet? What does that do to the San Diego waterfront? What does that do to the infrastructure of the U.S. Navy? It won’t be insignificant.” 

In other highlights of the first day’s programming:

  • Maj. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, deputy commanding general of the Camp Pendleton-based I Marine Expeditionary Force, told a luncheon audience the U.S. can never be complacent about the support it will receive around the world when vital interests are at stake. “We have seen nations change their policies over time as their interests change,” he said. “We cannot expect that they will support us as a matter of fact.”

  • A panel spoke enthusiastically of the potential from expanded use of unmanned systems, such as the drones in use in the skies above Afghanistan. The Navy is making “exciting” investments in such systems, said Dave Weddel, assistant deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance. They include an unmanned aircraft for carrier landings and air-to-air refueling, to be tested as early as next month. Unmanned systems improve the “persistence and endurance” of the Navy and its “ability to go where you would not necessarily push the envelope with a manned aircraft,” Weddel said. Within five or six years, Weddel said, use of unmanned systems for operations and surveillance will be so heavy the military will need to make sure it has invested enough to handle all the data generated by the systems. “There’s much that we have to do in terms of infrastructure; there’s much that we have to do in terms of architecture.”

  •  A panel considered implications of a flat or declining defense budget for Navy programs. Ronald O’Rourke, a specialist in national defense for the Congressional Research Service, said the Navy could find itself forced to extend the service lives of some of its older cruisers, destroyers and attack submarines, and move to deployments of longer duration with “sea swap” crew rotations, which are done by air.

The conference continues Wednesday with an address by Navy Undersecretary Robert O. Work and a forum on the future of China.


Also on the web: 


Optimism and Innovation Found in Reduced Budgets

by Raymond Pritchett

As an avid reader of naval books and Proceedings, and as a blogger who reads and writes about naval issues daily, when I began looking at the schedule for USNI/AFCEA WEST 2011 I knew instantly the first panel discussion was going to be a great one. Note to all conference organizers, if you want a great discussion try to always pick guys from the 0-5 and 0-6 ranks who will give an opinion and independent voices outside the services, you’ll never be disappointed.

The panel topic is timely: What Could Flat and/or Declining Defense Budgets Mean for Navy Plans and Programs is the right question at the right time. Asking good questions is the easy part, assembling a panel with the intellectual capital to fully explore the issue can be more difficult. The organizers at WEST 2011 came through like champs with CAPT R. Robinson (Robbie) Harris, USN (Ret) as the moderator, and a brilliant panel that included Ronald O’Rourke, Captain Victor Addison, Captain Mark Hagerott, and Captain Stuart Munsch. This panel turned out to be an incredibly thought provoking, idea generating panel on a timely topic and quite frankly, the hour and 15 minutes allocated was simply too short because I could have listened to these guys discuss the topic for another hour.  Read More


The Stuxnet warning

by CDR Salamander

In his opening remarks at West2011, VADM Richard W. Hunt brought a topic that’s needs a lot more attention. His comments aren’t directly related to Stuxnet, but when you back away a bit, the connection is clear.

When he was outlining the challenges we are facing – one warning stuck out the most for me, let me paraphrase.

… How will we operate if we lose access to GPS and our satellite systems?  If we lose use of our computer systems, we lose our ability to operate today. Space & comm systems include very vulnerable nodes including systems ashore.  We should revisit how we are protecting all our C4I beyond cyber…

Read More


Getting Beyond the ‘Transparency’ Discussion

by Nathan Hughes

At West 2011 in San Diego today, Adm. Tim Keating, USN (Ret.) and Dr. Xinjun Zhang, a Chinese professor and lawyer discussed U.S.-Chinese relations. A fascinating and well moderated dialog overseen by David Hartman ensued. Adm. Keating, just as current U.S. leaders, continued to emphasize the need for greater transparency, particularly in terms of Beijing’s military intentions. Transparency and mutual understanding (as well as functional hotlines and direct, efficient counterpart-to-counterpart communications – also emphasized by Adm. Keating) are absolutely desirable and important for conflict management and the reduction of both the risk of conflict and the prospects for escalation in a crisis. Read More


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