In 2019, Navy officials renamed the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command to the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command.
Information warfare has become a ubiquitous term, particularly in the Navy. Rear Adm. Christian “Boris” Becker, who leads the command, must focus on acquisition of command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR), as well as cyber and space. He has served as the organization’s top leader since March 2017.
Becker spoke recently with C4ISRNET Editor Mike Gruss.
C4ISRNET: Last year, you started an experiment on pre-positioning parts and machine learning. What did you learn and how’s that experiment going?
REAR ADM. CHRISTIAN BECKER: That is correct. We’ve moved on to the Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group, as well as the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group. With those two strike groups currently at sea, the data are limited. But with our Boxer strike group experiment, in some cases we cut down the wait time for logistics from 20 days to two hours. Now, I don’t want to oversell it. We’re still learning and the accuracy [of the] algorithm is somewhere above 65 percent, and that’s only gonna get better and better. Because, of course, for machine learning you’ve gotta have data — the more accurate data, the better data you feed it, the better you can tune the algorithm. So we’re kind of excited by that.
C4ISRNET: Is that an algorithm you outsourced?
BECKER: That’s in house.
C4ISRNET: Are there plans to expand the program?
BECKER: Indeed. We just started with Ike, who is out on their last training exercise before they deploy and [the Teddy Roosevelt] that is on deployment. So we’ll just keep growing.
C4ISRNET: Let’s talk about a recent Navy PEO-EIS contract for hardware for the intranet. Typically, those type of acquisitions take 200 days. This one took 100. What did you do differently?
BECKER: Part of it is planning up front and knowing what you want. Part of it’s just the idea that we can change it. And looking at every task, looking at every block of schedule and thinking, “well, okay, what’s in here that I can change?” Or, “what can we accomplish in parallel, rather than series?” Or, “how does just having everybody together focused, staying on the task until it’s done speed that up, rather than, say, going back to your day job in the middle of a middle of the process?”
C4ISRNET: Are there lessons to be applied elsewhere? It sounds like the biggest thing was a mindset change.
BECKER: I think back to my own experiences as a young acquisition professional, when we were in source selection for a very technical piece of gear. We were sequestered and you were on that task until it was done. And that was your day job. It brings a lot of focus, not to go fast, not to cut corners, but, rather, it’s a mindset: this is our task today, and this is what we’re going to accomplish.
And there are parts of that, too, that are on industry. When we’ve got great communication before the request for proposals and industry is clear on what we want and we’re clear with them and industry comes in with solid proposals, that makes the process go faster, too.
C4ISRNET: Let’s talk about the cloud. You migrated the Navy enterprise resource planning [ERP] tool in 2019. Again, what did you see there that you think might be replicable?
BECKER: That was the largest system transition to the cloud the Navy has executed so far. That was a heavy lift, and the team got her done 10 months ahead of schedule.
It starts with commitment and preparation. The systems you’re going to migrate have gotta be cloud ready. And, in some cases, for systems and applications that currently reside in our own government data centers, they’re not there yet. A lesson to take away from the experience with ERP [is] that when you get your applications cloud ready, then you can move there and start to achieve those benefits of operating in this flexible architecture.
C4ISRNET: How do you envision the information warfare enterprise moving forward and what is industry’s role in this area?
BECKER: When we talk about information warfare, it can be sort of nebulous. What is information warfare? You can fit it into three areas: assured command and control; battlespace awareness; and integrated fires. Within those domains, industry plays across the board in delivering capabilities, whether those capabilities are hardware or software. We’ve got to create the architectures that bring that all that together. Industry is right there in the middle of it.
C4ISRNET: What’s the latest on the Combined Afloat Network Enterprise Services [CANES] program? There was an inspector general’s report last year that raised questions about cyber hardening for this program and Congress had earmarked a bit of money until that was done.
BECKER: It’s doing well. We’re installing the next version on the Ronald Reagan right now and, in fact, that installation is proceeding ahead of schedule.
In terms of cybersecurity, CANES brings capabilities for cybersecurity that other networks just don’t have. And we’re trying to modernize as quickly as we can. Today, 64 percent of ships in the fleet have CANES. And we’ve got units that are in installation and that are in production in our facility and that are in production at the vendor. So there’s a healthy pipeline of production installations and operations in the fleet today.
C4ISRNET: What do you hear anecdotally about CANES?
BECKER: When Ronald Reagan had their first installation it was right at the time that Reagan left home port San Diego. The initial feedback on CANES performance was poor, or not good. A senior sailor, someone with a lot of seat time and experience, shared that opinion. Some of that was improving our training, some of that was improving the system, some of that was just getting run time with something that was new and operated differently. The team went back about a year later. And the story goes that this very same seasoned sailor hugged a member of the team and said “thank you for CANES.”
Now are there things we’re still working on? You betcha. But as we look to the future of CANES, and we look to an architecture that’s fully digital, i.e., solid-state hardware, really delivering what I would call a cloud afloat. It’s delivering not only Infrastructure as a Service, not only Platform as a Service, but a software architecture that, in essence, provides Software as a Service. We need speed and with an architecture like that, we can deliver new capabilities rapidly, like in a day. Today, we run processes and that process is far too lengthy as we go through the risk management framework.
C4ISRNET: So how does it help you?
BECKER: [With the right system,] if I want to patch the network, I can patch the network and I don’t have to worry about all the regression testing with all the applications because you’re behaving in an environment where they’re not entangled, if you will, with the operating system with the hardware. They’re interfacing in a way that we know we can make changes to the hardware, we know we can make changes to the operating system, we know we can make changes to the underlying service layer without disrupting the performance of the application. That’s where we’re going.
C4ISRNET: When you talk about delivering capabilities in a day, you’re talking about being able to patch across the fleet as quickly as needed.
BECKER: [We’re talking about] being able to push a patch, being able to push a new capability, a new application. We experimented with that this year and in fact we created the code, we ran it through an automated test. The test proved that it was safe to go. It received an authority to operate. We transmitted it via SATCOM out to a ship and installed it on a ship and that happened inside a 24-hour period.
C4ISRNET: How has the department’s push for common data standards and interoperability manifested itself inside your shop?
BECKER: Certainly, you look at something like Link 16 and delivering Link 16 to the joint war fighter. That’s a very clear, common set of standards, common set of equipment, and that’s something that is right our wheelhouse in the [information warfare] enterprise.
But I would look at the move toward developing capabilities in the cloud. And then, once they’re developed and tested, moving into production via the cloud, and doing all that in a way that is different than we’ve done it before … where the users and the engineers are working together to create capability, rather than in a serial way of build, test, deliver fix.
Navy Agile software development is certainly not new. We have a software armory, where folks can work inside the development environment and deliver new war-fighting capability. The Air Force talks quite a bit about Kessel Run, which is a similar construct.
So, as we independently move to new methods for developing capability — delivering it and maintaining it, methods that are very much aligned — that opens up opportunities in the future for us to have more, I say, federated approaches to delivering war-fighting capability that we will operate independently or operate together.
C4ISRNET: Are there one or two experiments, or prototypes, that you saw that showed promise in the last year?
BECKER: We’ve laid out an other transaction authorities consortium called the IWRP, or information warfare research project. That OTA is going gangbusters. So far 83 prototype offerings have been solicited from the consortium, 41 prototype awards for $52 million, and 60 percent of the awards are nontraditional defense contractors as the prime. Right there, we’re demonstrating we want to try new; we’re demonstrating we want to develop quickly. And we have the authorities to do so as the IWRP.
Both in San Diego and in Charleston, we’ve established tech bridges. These are places where folks can come in and connect; they’re there, outside the wire, so you’ve cut down on friction for having nontraditional players come in and be able to collaborate with the government and with each other.