The last day at West 2010 is exactly what I expected it to be – unpredictable. I admit to missing the breakfast speech, as I was on the flood looking at the booths and doing the rounds. A lot of smaller companies and the information technology space was well represented. There is a lot of creativity in the technologies being showcased, but I think leading up to East 2010 later this year it might be useful to review several of the technologies that the Navy expressly called for during the last three days.
The morning panel with Bob Work, VADM Dorsett, Mr. Lou Von Thaer of General Dynamics, and Tom Hone was a lot better than I expected. Dick Diamond did a really good job, I thought, setting up the panel and moderating. The issue of affordability in defense is enormous, but it was articulated well by the panel.
Bob Work began by discussing the focus on fleet design, which he believes should be self-deployable ships with small logistics tails, ships with flexible payloads, ships that can participate within a battle network, ships that take advantage of open architecture, and he strongly believes in unmanned systems. His goal is to have a force that maximizes flexibility. When looking at industry the Navy will focus on acquisition excellent – performance – in delivering capabilities. He also went on to say the challenge and goal is to balance operations, maintenance, and training. He made clear that the Navy will take care of its people first, and preserving the all volunteer force is a top priority.
VADM Dorsett was much better on the panel today than he was during the lunch speech on Wednesday. He describes the network challenge of the Navy as unsolved, with a lot of work ahead. He described the tension in balancing network sensors and relevant information – something the Navy must due because it lacks bandwidth for everything. He discussed the emphasis on total ownership costs for technology on platforms, and said the Navy must invest in training the information space if they are to get it right. At the end he told the industry audience there must be a realistic assessment of technology capabilities up front, which came off to me as chastisement of industry for the Navy’s own less than optimal decision making in the past. That stuff cuts both ways, but the VADM was not wrong to say it.
Mr. Vom Thaer was outstanding. Better than anyone else I have heard in a long time, he outlined specifics how open architecture will save money. He called for open business models for the Navy, common data models, a focus on infrastructure, and discussed the challenge of open architecture by noting there will be extra costs up front with long term savings above and beyond early investments. He is exactly right, and there are dozens of places this can be sighted within defense to have been proven accurate, beginning with technology surrounding the Virginia class submarine.
Mr. Hone played devils advocate, and gave several examples how the pressure to “not tell the truth” still existed in the defense industry for programs. He got a bit philosophical when noting that software has not become industrialized yet, and by that he meant software does not write software. Basically he is discussing the relative immaturity of technology today, which is very true, but self-aware software does not exist so his comment amounts to a “this is what the future might look like” comment.
I caught Bob Work again right before he had to catch his plane, and he noted that VADM Dorsett is the guy who gets to figure out all the big network challenges to make the Navy work. That is good news for ADM Roughead, but bad news for VADM Dorsett – and by that I mean ADM Roughead no longer has the hardest job in the Navy – VADM Dorsett does.
The lunch speaker was ADM Roughead. His speech was really good and answered questions as talking points. After two years of not being able to really open up and talk about the Navy because of so many things were pending in Congress or the QDR, ADM Roughead looked different to me. All of a sudden he is CNO and can talk about decisions made, rather than decisions not made. The difference was noticeable.
He said “I’m pleased where we are in shipbuilding.” Anyone who has followed the DDG-1000 and LCS programs since he took over can understand why, as there is so much more certainty today than at any time over the last 2 years he has been CNO. He discussed information dominance, and the fusion of information, intelligence, and operations. He discussed unmanned systems and then highlighted underwater unmanned systems – calling on the industry audience to solve the power problem for UUVs.
He discussed leveraging the new with the old before moving on to Cyber. I’ll let the news stories cover the developments there…
ADM Roughead wasn’t as good with Q&A in speech, but some of the questions were also very difficult and he may not have been prepared to answer them. For example, one question asked about China and Google and where the Navy fits in cyber protection. The admiral did not answer the question, and may not be ready to. It is a tough question and after Vice Chief Cartwright on Tuesday I would have gone all over the map except to the point too. Basically the Navy is not ready to discuss what cyber will look like from the Navy and what they bring to a national cyber defense system yet, but one would imagine N2/N6 and 10th Fleet is working on that.
One thing ADM Roughead did say that i thought was really good was he described how sailors have been using networks for years, and that this was not new. He said the Navy will build upon that history as they move towards cyberspace. When dealing with an emerging challenge, drawing upon history early in the development of solutions is a great way to frame the discussion. I thought the way he made that point was really good.
The West 2010 was really good on a lot of levels. I’ve been to several naval conferences and I have never seen the Navy so pointed about what technology challenges they want/need industry to solve in public. AFCEA and the US Naval Institute really did an amazing job getting so many important people in the discussion at the microphone, and I thought it produced a lot of intellectual capital that provided useful information to those within the larger naval business.
I leave San Diego with a rather large lingering thought…
ADM Stavridis began the conference discussing the need for information filters to turn data into relevant information to the warfighter. VADM Dorsett discussed every platform as a sensor. Bob Work painted a mosaic of a navy networked battle force that operates globally. The Navy is going to collect a tremendous amount of data globally, ship it back to many locations including several critical warfighting data centers back in CONUS, process and filter that data, and turn it into relevant information for the warfighter operating globally. When one considers the amount of data transfer and the scope of the network, obviously one can spot the complexity but I do believe that this global network can be developed and deployed effectively.
But how survivable will it be in war? Is the network going to work when the tensions and stresses to the network by both us and our adversaries are applied in wartime – which is the precise time the process must work at its most efficient in order for all the risks to translate into benefits.Because our tools are not as mature as we think they may be, I do wonder if this advanced technology driven philosophy of information enabled warfare – or ‘ForceNET on steroids’ if you prefer – has reached a point of diminishing returns until we reach a higher level of maturity in network and software technologies.