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Naval Systems: Interoperability—Coming Soon?

By Ed Walsh

The Common Host evolution will be an element of a new Battle Force Interoperability Certification Process "needed to overcome battle-group interoperability deficiencies," according to program officials. Interoperability deficiencies are well-recognized in the fleet, on the CNO staff, and around the systems commands.

Combat-system computer hardware and software have gone through upgrades and modifications over the years, in response to the introduction of new technology, changing operational concepts, and the availability of funding (or, more likely, the lack thereof). A key reason for the lack of interoperability, NavSea managers say, is that combat-systems changes typically are introduced piecemeal, ship-by-ship: half the ships of a battle group may get upgraded, leaving the other half with older technology—hence a loss of interoperability. While the ships that are upgraded may gain capability, the effectiveness of the entire battle group is degraded.

Another critical factor is the collision of technology development with fleet requirements; the fleet is being asked to do a lot. The Theater Air Defense Program Executive, for example, is managing the development of Aegis baseline 7 phase 1, which is expected provide not only integrated battle group air defense but also Navy air and theater-wide theater ballistic missile defense, a new land-attack capability, and possibly an area-air defense capability—while introducing an entirely new commercially based computing architecture.

Limited resources are responsible for at least part of the problem. Given insufficient funds to upgrade complete battle groups, program sponsors do the ones they can afford when they can afford to do them—a time-honored acquisition tactic, but one that does more harm than good: "Small changes implemented on one fighting unit can easily lead to complex problems on other battle-force components," according to the new guidance.

The lack of combat-systems interoperability, moreover, was more tolerable in the past when Navy doctrine was based primarily on the missions of individual ships rather than the cohesive operation of complete battle groups. Fleet doctrine, as demonstrated in a continuing series of fleet battle experiments over the past two years, has shifted in the direction of "network-centric warfare," which depends on systems that can share not only top-level intelligence and force-status information, but also extremely time-sensitive target tracking and weapons engagement data.

The battle group's ability to operate as a networked system of shared weapons and sensors turns on the degree to which the combat systems share tracking, engagement, and other data.

The interoperability-certification strategy is based on an evolution of interoperable combat systems over a 30-month cycle—a process already under way for battle groups scheduled to deploy early in 2001. The initiative involves not only the various systems command program managers, but also the battle group commanders, fleet commanders-in-chief, and type commanders.

A battle force change control board oversees the interoperability process for each battle group and a battle force action officer representing the systems commands assists commanders in accordance with the following schedule:

  • Deployment (D) minus 30 months—battle force composition message
  • D minus 28 months—systems baseline configuration identified
  • D minus 18 months—initial combat system integration testing
  • D minus one month—NavSea OS issues final battle force certification.

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