Lead or Get Out of the Way: Winning the Millennium War

By Vice Admiral Mark Edwards, U.S. Navy

Indeed, C2 in the 21st century is much more than a linear progression through new and better technologies, systems, and platforms. It is not just fancier, high-definition color computer displays and better communication circuits. Today's and especially tomorrow's C2 represent a generational change in human brain circuitry. For instance, we can fantasize about a future common operational picture, where inter-service and inter-agency assets are able to gather, fuse, process, validate, and display data in real time and within a globally accessible, common environment. But we cannot reach such a Nirvana by focusing on updates to legacy equipment. We have to envision a new 21st-century non-linear process that is being revolutionized in the brains of our young Sailors and officers. In that, we seniors confront stark alternatives. We must lead or get out of the way.

The Millennium Challenge

We all know who the "Gen-Xers" are. They are the children of the Baby Boomers, born roughly between 1965 and 1990. But the linear/non-linear challenge we confront in 2008 is embodied in even younger kids—the "Millenniums"—born after the dawn of the Internet. They are pioneering the most significant social and cultural change in human history. And, for the Navy, the Millennium Sailors who are just now entering the Fleet are going to revolutionize the way the service thinks and fights. 

Millennium Sailors are creatures of the cyber world. Their minds are hard-wired in a way even the Gen-Xers find hard to understand. They were born with laptops in their hands. Their best friend is a guy called "Cyber Dude," whom they might not have ever met in the same room—indeed, they "live" in virtual chat rooms. Their minds are programmed to think collaboratively and multi-task with non-linear tools the Internet makes available to all. Frankly, there is no way their Baby-Boomer seniors are ever going to understand them or catch up to them. The best we can hope for is to harness their abilities, impart the accumulated wisdom from our years in the trenches, and cut them loose to do the massive job of plugging us into the 21st century.

Imagine the Navy's allure to such motivated kids. The Navy's recruiting commercials and posters say it all. Depicting the most powerful warships and aircraft ever created, the caption reads: "Accelerate your life!" Your career will dance to the click of your own fingertips, we tell them. Your mission is to make the greatest nation in the world safe from its enemies using way-beyond-Star Wars technologies of computers, satellites, lasers, and drones. You will not need to play "World of War Craft." You can be a real warrior, fighting in a real war.

But when we get them into the Fleet, the disconnect between what they were promised and what they find will be profoundly disappointing—a veritable bait and switch scheme. They will discover that our "leading-edge-of-the-shelf" and "state-of the-art" technology is at best ancient. They will realize that the dazzling career they envisioned will be largely spent operating and fixing antiquated equipment that is down more than it is up. Their collaborative world will be lost at sea when bandwidth restrictions close their access to that world. This is a disaster, and we the Navy—and the other services, as well—will not be able to keep them in. They will be lining up to leave just as fast as they signed up.

Their Baby-Boom and Gen-X seniors will be perplexed at their ingratitude. To us, the capabilities on board our ships are cutting edge. But our young Sailors and officers have been playing with even more cutting-edge technology in video games since they first held a controller or mouse. There is no longer a divide between work and play. Our Millennium Sailors need to be on line and connected 24/7. Instead, we are falling further behind the capabilities of the civilian marketplace, and the cost of maintaining our legacy systems is prohibiting investment in the high-tech innovations that the Millennium generation has come to expect, almost as a birthright.

Real-World Challenges

Consider the Arleigh Burke -class Aegis guided-missile destroyer. It is one of the most sophisticated and capable fighting ships the world has ever seen. With its advanced SPY-1 radar, 96 vertical-launch tubes armed with a variety of long-range weapons, an advanced sonar system and antisubmarine warfare capabilities, it has everything a naval warrior could want. Consider, now, the Blackberry that has become ubiquitous in our culture. The two-way communication bandwidth of a single Blackberry is three times greater than the bandwidth of the entire Arleigh Burke destroyer. Looked at another way, the Navy's most modern in-service multi-mission warship has only five percent of the bandwidth we have in our home Internet connection. And the bandwidth it does have must be shared among the crew and combat systems: the C5ISR conundrum. The recruiting posters promise, "Accelerate your life!" but the best we can do is "decelerate" access to information.

The Economist summarized the challenge: "If Napoleon's armies marched on their stomachs, American ones march on bandwidth." During the past ten years we have seen an explosive growth in commercial bandwidth, and each year the Navy's connectivity falls further and further behind. By 2014, our homes will have 250 times more bandwidth than a DDG, and 100 times more than the next-generation aircraft carrier. We have to reverse this trend. And if we want the Navy to become a more interactive, collaborative, and effective fighting force, we have to leverage the innate collaborative nature of our Millennium Sailors.

The opportunity is there for the taking. As computing capabilities continue to grow exponentially, the costs of computers, servers, storage, and software are coming down. Across the commercial industry worldwide, IT budgets are actually declining as capacity goes up. But in the Navy, the opposite is taking place.

A recent cost-performance analysis of Navy-wide networking and C2 program costs during the past 20 years showed that we are stuck in "proprietary gridlock." As a technology matures, we pay increasingly more over time because we are linked to only a few vendors who build highly integrated systems—where the software and hardware are tightly coupled and where interoperability between two or more systems is gained only by building costly middleware. Our IT culture is constrained by vendors, and competition is discouraged. This path is unsustainable and cannot continue.

Moreover, every system we field takes nearly seven years to reach the Fleet. By the time it gets to the people who need it, it is already out of date. There is no agility or flexibility in our IT. Complicating the Navy's future is our exposure to increasingly insidious and dangerous cyber threats. Our network security is becoming significantly more vulnerable. We are falling further and further behind, and we are spending more and more money in the process. In six years, the Navy will have to double its IT budget—about $5 billion in Fiscal Year 2008—just to maintain the same capability we have today. This is unaffordable, and the way the Navy does business must change.

Adapt or Die

We must fix this. First, we have to recognize that the Navy needs to adapt: the Millenniums will not adapt to us. Second, we have to completely redesign our network architecture. We have to release the stranglehold of proprietary interests and separate our data, hardware, and applications. We need a network architecture that is agile and can be upgraded rapidly. It must be flexible, with the ability to accommodate the expected exponential increase in demand. The commercial industry calls it "open architecture." It will allow both a reduction in costs, and more important, the seamless use of data. It will provide better data protection and increased network security. Quite simply, it is the method by which our Millennium warfighters must fight collaboratively and effectively.

Our first step in implementing this new network architecture is taking the idea to sea. The Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) system is today the best way to achieve an open, agile, flexible, and affordable network architecture that will carry us well into the 21st century. CANES allows us to break up the proprietary stranglehold among data, hardware, and applications, and to consolidate our networks into a single suite of survivable common hardware capable of hosting a wide variety of real-time combat support applications. Finally, CANES embraces cross-domain solutions that enable enhanced movement of data. This will provide a network architecture that is truly open, secure, reliable, and capable. It is a revolutionary change in our IT infrastructure, and it is absolutely vital for us if we are to excel in 21st century warfare. But this is much more than just an idea—it is being realized in the operating forces.

In addition to CANES, there are several other ways the Navy is tackling the bandwidth issue. For example, the Commercial Broadband Satellite Program will allow our ships to access civilian satellites and increase the amount of two-way communication capability. Additionally, ships are being upgraded with the Automated Digital Network System router, which will significantly change the way bandwidth is allocated among our ships and Sailors. These two will combine to make significant improvements in connecting our Millennium Sailors with the rest of the world.

Winning the Millennium War

This transformation is not easy and it is not cheap. We are spending billions of dollars to modernize the Fleet to catch up to and keep pace with the civilian technology sector. For affordability alone, the Navy must adopt this new way of thinking and transform our network architecture, all while maintaining the functionality of systems already employed by the Fleet.

The Cold War is over. We stood on the front lines against formidable adversaries and prevailed. But a new age of warfare is upon us. The need for rapid information exchange is fundamental to winning it. We have to adapt and improve as we continue to protect our nation.

Our Millennium Sailors need an open architecture to connect to the world and with each other. As the Millenniums rise through the ranks, an infrastructure must be in place that is synchronized with their thought processes. Data must be readily available. Communications cannot be delayed, and the system must always be secure. The future of our nation's security depends on this. When our Millennium Sailor becomes the Millennium admiral, she or he must be capable of winning the Millennium war.

Vice Admiral Edwards is Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Communications Networks (N6).


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