Military's technological might is slipping, Navy under secretary says

The demands of asymmetric warfare and cyber threats requires a new, adaptive approach.

The military no longer enjoys the technological dominance it once relied upon and needs to develop a more adaptive approach to marshaling its network enterprise systems, the under secretary of the Navy told an audience of industry executives today.

At the same time, “we’re just coming to grips” with the demands of asymmetrical warfare and the rising level of cyber attacks on military networks, said Robert Work, speaking at an Armed Forces Electronics and Communications Association event in Tyson’s Corner, Va. 

The era of using overwhelming force to win a war has given way to new military requirements that rely increasingly on rapid and seamless connectivity, capable of delivering information to any military network device anywhere in the world, he said.  The challenges of building a new generation of military enterprise systems is compounded by the changing nature of adversaries who are capable of disrupting those networks.

“We’re just beginning to understand the ramifications of the new regime” of asymmetrical warfare, Work said. “We enjoyed such a dominance and monopoly [in technology] that we started to drink our own Kool-aid,” he said.  “But we’re losing that monopoly. We really have to work to keep that dominance,” he said.

Central to that effort, he said, is the need to develop network enterprise systems that interact smoothly across the services.
 
“All armed forces, but particularly the Navy, is increasingly defined by its net-centricity. We need steely-eyed cyber warriors and network ninjas to help us define our networked future and achieve information dominance,” he said.

Much of the urgency behind that effort, he said, is how much the military has seen its enemies adapt and ultimately find weaknesses in the military’s technological might: First, he said, by learning to hide from the network and by staging ambushes that “worked against our own network. Second, as guided weapons have become more effective, U.S. adversaries have learned to go after them. And third, "there are adversaries that can go after our networks and satellites. They're competing, although asymmetrically."

“We haven’t had to operate in an oppressed network environment,” the way we are today, he said. “They’re doing everything they can do to take our networks down.”

That has forced U.S. forces to adapt by deploying more Predators and full-motion video, he said.  “We have had to totally reconfigure our network,” he said, adding bluntly that concentrating on network-centric capabilities without the ability to continuously adapt “is a bunch of crap.”

Work stressed the importance of transitioning from the Navy Marine Corps Intranet to NGEN, the Navy’s next-generation enterprise network. “We better get this right. If we do it wrong, if [our adversaries] can take down NGEN, then that will have an impact on the way our forces fight,” he said.

NGEN is a central part of the Navy’s broader effort to build a Navel Network Environment that will incorporate other networks being updated or overhauled, including the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services program, the Marine Air-Ground Task Force command and control systems, and the Marine Corp Enterprise IT Services program.

Asked by a member of the audience why it made sense to develop NGEN instead of devoting resources to a joint network, Work said it’s still preferable to have “different networks, so there are multiple pathways” for communicating on the battlefield and between the battlefield and command centers.

Work reiterated the goal of the Defense Secretary Robert Gates:  “He wants every sensor out there, every Global Hawk, every Predator [to be connected]… and that we have multiple paths into fusion centers” for sharing information. “Its not going as well as it could,” he acknowledged, in part because of procurement requirements, but it is going in the right direction.

The top priority now, he said, is to have a seamless connection with operational forces, administrative forces, the 10th Fleet [the Navy’s cyber command] and the Marine Corps cyber command, he said.

But he cautioned that in many regards, the military’s is still in the early stages of developing the kind of cyber response capabilities officials know it needs.

“We just set up Cyber Command,” he said, adding that about 1,000 new sailors have been assigned to support the Navy’s cyber operations.

But Work, who previously held a wide range of command and management positions with the U.S. Marine Corps over a 27-year career, also stressed that “every IT professional in the Navy and Marine Corps has to think of themselves as a warrior. The network is their weapon.”

“It’s a damn good time to be an IT specialist and cyber warrior,” he said.

 

 

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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