Looking for Another Rickover

By Jim Pietrocini

Today's Navy is entering a new century, where information warfare will play a role similar to that of nuclear power in the Rickover era. Downsizing, jointness, and interservice interoperability and communication are shaping our armed forces, but even greater than these internal forces are those of the information revolution that is engulfing our nation and our world. The introduction of the internet and the world-wide web, combined with telecommunications changes, is having a direct impact on how our Navy will operate beyond 2000.

The JOTS Paradigm

In the early 1990s, the Navy command-and-control community took a daring turn and moved toward commercial workstations and software standards and away from military-specification (MilSpec) computers and Defense specific programming languages. MilSpec computers on board our aircraft carriers were replaced with UNIX-based client-server workstations connected via a local area network (LAN). Some said that a prototype system developed by a small group of mathematicians riding Atlantic and Pacific Fleet units could not become the Navy's baseline for information systems. The success of the Joint Operational Tactical System (JOTS) was the result, in part, of the leadership of a few senior Navy officers overseeing the hard work of a cohesive team of Navy labs and contractors.

Today, the Navy, under the management of the Space and Naval Warfare Command, is developing the future Joint Maritime Command Information System (JMCIS) and the Joint Maritime Communications System architectures. Navy ships will have local area networks of PC- and UNIX-based computers (client/server) connected via routers and bridges to the Navy's own intranet, connecting the fleets together. A sailor on the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) will browse for the plan of the day on the carrier's home page and see when he has the midwatch. The engineering officer of the watch will check the engineering department intranet to review the status of casualty reports and then connect to the Atlantic Fleet logistics page to check the arrival date of a main feed pump being shipped to the next port. The crew will be able to log on to less expensive network computers in their berthing spaces to send e-mail-including graphics, sound, and video-back to loved ones in the states.

Riding the Commercial Technology Wave

To support the architecture of JMCIS and other systems, the Navy must align itself with commercial industry; it must keep pace with commercial technology and provide leadership to integrate it within the bulkheads of our ships and walls of our command centers. Key to these efforts will be keeping abreast of what is going on in the computer industry with respect to operating systems, hardware architectures, development languages, browsers, data bases, etc., and being able to correlate technological movement by the computer industry and how companies are measured from a business standpoint. A very good example is the case of Apple and Microsoft. Apple had the best graphic user interface built on top of the Apple operating system, but failed to distribute the technology. Microsoft had the DOS and Windows operating system, and today owns a majority of the personal productivity market because of its ability to bundle the DOS operating system with various versions of PCs.

The Navy Chief Information Officer

A chief information officer (CIO) pipeline similar to what we have in the nuclear Navy is essential. Enlisted training should begin in boot camp. A good start is today's effort to give every recruit a new computer upon entering the Navy.

The CIO billet should be established alongside the ship's chief engineer, operations officer, and weapons officer. In a squadron or group, it should be parallel to the chief staff officer. The CIO's background should include a computer science or key technical degree, and the career path should allow for the development of applied computer science skills. The way I learned to be an engineering officer of the watch was by having my boiler technician hand me a flashlight and tell me to find and trace every valve in the 600-pound steam system.

Today's nuclear Navy is better off because it had a strong leader at the top, a leader who upheld values and provided consistent guidelines when social and political factors weighed heavy. Information technology needs discipline to mold it into an architecture that can be used to guide mission-critical systems and applications, update status of forces, and aid our naval forces in harm's way. It needs a flag officer who can provide direction to our future enlisted personnel and junior and senior officers and can communicate with the leadership of our commercial industries.

Final Note

After I was questioned by a few officers about the pH factor and the delicacy of differential equations, Rickover asked me, "What does your last name mean in Italian?" I had no idea. The admiral quickly responded, "GET OUT of my office!" I did not appreciate the experience then, but now I understand the need for such determined leadership in our Navy.

Mr. Pietrocini , a 1980 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is a director of government programs for a commercial software company headquartered in Carlsbad, California.


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