The Navy’s new C2C24 architecture synchronizes advanced data analytics to provide unprecedented warfighting effects.
This scenario is not science fiction, but instead could be real in the near future: The USS Underway is in the Gulf of Oman, preparing to transit the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Gulf. The ship is on high alert for potential adversary activity, and all watch teams are prepared. Information flows rapidly from the ship’s tactical cloud to watchstanders and leaders in a proactive, predictive manner based on their roles to facilitate accurate, rapid decision-making and uninterrupted command and control of assigned forces.
Under the afloat web services architecture, the ship uses data from organic systems combined with data from ashore to provide that information environment. The commanding officer (CO) identifies information requirements, prioritized and synchronized between the ashore and afloat clouds. The information is processed using advanced data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) agents ashore and in the shared tactical cloud to improve situational awareness and decision-making.
Many operators reuse authoritative data on course and speed: The navigator uses it, along with chart and weather information, to ensure a safe transit. The chief engineer determines proper functioning and safe operation of the engineering plant using the same information, dynamically combined with recent casualty reporting and plant readiness data. Communications personnel use course and speed data to ensure the ship stays within the satellite footprint and maintains communications. Tactical action officers (TAOs) ensure their weapon systems are prepared for offensive or defensive modes using that same data. Finally, data are combined with all-source intelligence to project potential adversary courses of action during transit.
Because the afloat tactical data environment was architected for data and analytics to be resident in the shipboard cloud, machine learning using demonstrated patterns of behavior is possible afloat. AI agents scour all available data, including that from unmanned organic platforms and sensors close to the ship, to discover and alert personnel to critical information in a predictive manner, proactively alerting the crew as the ship steams forward.
ALL SENSORS ON HIGH ALERT, HUMAN AND MACHINE
The CO, officer of the deck, and TAO receive an alert that on previous transits at the same relative course and speed, a swarm of unmanned vehicles and small boats intercepted three U.S. Navy ships. The alert includes platform weapons information; adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures used; and the effects achieved against friendly forces. It proposes possible courses of action, all at “machine speed,” vastly surpassing any human’s information-processing capability. The CO and others, confident in the information, act decisively and swiftly.
Should the ship’s satellite link be lost because of emissions control, weather, system casualties, or adversary action, operators already have most of the information they need to continue the mission. Over time, such proficiency would begin to diminish until satellite reach-back ashore was reestablished or provided through other organic aerial, surface, or subsurface high-data-rate communications relay platforms. Until that time, the CO could continue with the best information available.
The future architecture in this information environment includes locally deployable alternatives to space-based communication systems using high-data-rate transport in both radio frequency and free space optics portions of the spectrum, providing greater resiliency in a communications-contested environment and the ability to sustain critical reach-back ashore for information exchange.
BACK TO REALITY AND HOW TO FIX IT
Existing architecture cannot support this information environment now and will not in the future unless significant changes are made. In this age of accelerating and converging technology, achieving such an information state will bring countless operational advantages. The Navy has been aggressively demonstrating key elements of this paradigm through a new architecture called Compile to Combat in 24 Hours (C2C24).
The basic premise behind C2C24 is an architecture framework that modernizes and modularizes applications, using open standard data sharing formats. Key to this is decomposing legacy applications into micro-services, similar to how content is received on smartphones, and abstracting applications from the hardware to be technology-neutral with a data-centric design. Micro-services are supported by standardized data formats to compress, prioritize, and synchronize data between the ashore and afloat clouds. This frees data to be reused by many, as well as fielding capability quickly, securely, efficiently, and with less risk—much like a smartphone.
The C2C24 information environment works in the most austere conditions and is the lowest common denominator, so if it works there, it will be repeatable across the enterprise. Overcoming institutional and cultural barriers takes a team effort that combines operational forces, systems commands and program executive offices, and type commands. The C2C24 architecture drives changes in policy and governance; design and funding of shared infrastructure, including possibly contracting the cloud afloat as a service; incorporation of commercial industry technologies and best practices; and decomposition of legacy monolithic applications along with their separate hardware and duplicative software services.
The operational return on investment is improved cybersecurity, lethality, and C2, speed of effects delivery, and efficient bandwidth usage. It models industry best practices by having a standardized development and operations environment, which also reduces the time and money spent on development, integration testing, accreditation, and fielding.
The concept of decomposing highly integrated, monolithic applications and separating the data from the application logic (so that the data does not tie to any one specific application or piece of hardware) is not new. In 2000, a small team (on a special project directed by then–Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William J. Fallon and under the leadership of Monica Shephard) developed the Web-Enabled Navy architecture, pushing a construct known as web services. At the time, those ideas were cutting edge; however, without smartphones and similar technology, it was hard for people to visualize and understand that kind of information-rich world. Data compression and web technology standards were not as developed as they are today, and there was institutional resistance to what would have been revolutionary change.
On the process front, implementing an enterprise data strategy with standards and interfaces for consistency and interoperability will allow for insertion of emerging technology at a pace not possible today. Open standards will be the norm, enabling rapid deployment of commercial-off-the-shelf products and tools to facilitate quickly writing code and fielding capability. Data standards should align to those most evolved and with the biggest market share in commercial industry, ensuring many products to choose from for greater flexibility, interoperability, security, and use in AI and machine learning. For example, standardizing on extensible markup language (XML), a leading data format in industry for years, has multiple advantages. It improves cybersecurity and enables data compression and transition from today’s inefficient and unstructured information-sharing methods (e.g., presentation files, spreadsheets, etc.) to a dynamic environment with structured data discoverable in databases.
The risk of not transforming the Navy’s architecture and processes to benefit from accelerating and converging technologies cedes an operational advantage to adversaries. And yet fielding capability to operators has a cardinal rule: “Don’t break something at the tactical edge.” Rapidly moving to the C2C24 architecture involves a different risk acceptance model, and operational commanders must understand and be willing to accept that risk.
At the same time, because C2C24 capabilities are fielded in smaller increments, it actually reduces risk. Operators always have the choice of taking an update without disrupting critical missions—similar to the choice smartphone users make to install or delay updates. By using web services, the risk the Navy faces is not as great as with large, highly integrated application updates that take months and years to test and field. If the update does not work, users quickly roll back to the old version and keep steaming. “Fixes” can be quickly corrected and distributed across the enterprise.
The C2C24 architecture also provides improvements for cybersecurity—from development through operations—adding to the operational benefits of a more secure information environment with a significantly reduced attack surface. Using shared infrastructure streamlines automated sensing and monitoring at critical information points, giving improved situational awareness and the ability to detect, react, and respond to adversary activity in a predictive manner at speeds not possible today.
Savings are realized in cost and time to accredit micro-services. Developers and program managers need only accredit a small piece of code to meet Risk Management Framework (RMF) security accreditation requirements in the C2C24 model. Accreditation falls to the shared infrastructure provider, similar to today. Current RMF processes that take weeks and months and, in some cases, millions of dollars for each program are automated and executed within minutes and hours without any human in the loop.
In short, C2C24 addresses the end-to-end enterprise architecture that the Navy needs, enabling attainment and use of data not possible today. This future operational information platform is the foundation on which advanced data analytics, such as those currently piloted by the Navy’s Digital Warfare Office, can succeed across the enterprise, providing unprecedented warfighting effects.
Rear Admiral Barrett is the director of Navy Cybersecurity (OpNav N2N6G).