Navy faces headwinds in critical IT plans

As if all the millions of dollars and untold effort the Navy spends on networks and IT systems weren’t enough to underline their importance, top service officials decided it was time to be more direct about that key role as they prepare to make some tough choices.

For the Navy, IT does not simply support infrastructure — it is a combat system, said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, vice chief of naval operations, in a keynote address at AFCEA's Naval IT Day earlier this month.

Unfortunately, it’s a combat system that has become bloated, inefficient and vulnerable, other Navy officials said during the conference, which Henry Kenyon and Amber Corrin covered for Federal Computer Week's sister publication Defense Systems. The Navy wants to fix those shortcomings, but it will take a significant effort to realign its operations and culture to support recognition of IT as a combat system.

The to-do list is long and growing as the Navy deploys new IT-centric capabilities, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and stouter cyber defenses. A tight fiscal climate and increasing pressure to downsize greatly complicate the task. The Navy is in the middle of a strategic review of all its operations as it looks for opportunities to pare unneeded programs and focus limited funds on critical and high-growth areas. The stakes are high.

“We are going to make decisions in the next two years that will set the stage for the [Defense Department] for the next 10 years or more,” Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work said at the conference.

Navy officials realize they must make the most of every dollar they spend on basic IT infrastructure so they have sufficient funds to support future capabilities. To that end, they are exploring the possibility of using commercial cloud services for e-mail and data storage.

“If our security standards can be met,...maybe [commercial services] are options,” said Navy Department CIO Terry Halvorsen. He also said officials are keeping an eye on the joint enterprise e-mail effort under way between the Army and the Defense Information Systems Agency to see if it could deliver a more affordable messaging option for the Navy.

Meanwhile, new capabilities such as UAVs and remote sensors are producing a flood of data and straining the Navy’s IT infrastructure, resulting in a 1,000 percent increase in afloat bandwidth demand, said Dave Weddel, assistant deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance. The challenge is not only to acquire and process that data, but also to share and act on it.

None of that will be possible if the underlying infrastructure is not adequately secured. Along those lines, the Navy is preparing to launch initial operations at four new Regional Network Operations and Security Centers that will support the Navy's Fleet Cyber Command.

“These [centers] will combine network operations with computer network defense” and will exploit the adversary, predict future attacks and defend networks, said Rear Adm. Edward Deets III, commander of the Naval Network Warfare Command.

In addition, as part of its Cyber Asset Reduction and Security effort, the Navy is working to reduce its network portfolio by 51 percent and has already eliminated nearly 1,000 networks, 20,000 servers and more than 32,000 devices.

“The fewer number of networks we’re attempting to secure out there, the better,” Deets said. “We’ve tremendously reduced our vulnerability.”

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