ArchiveOODA Original

Sea Services showcase new capabilities at AFCEA WEST

Editor’s Note: This week, OODA’s Chris Ward attended the annual AFCEA and US Naval Institute Sea Service Conference in San Diego (WEST 2020). The central theme of the conference was around Navy, Marine and Coast Guard readiness for great power competition. In this article she compiles her observations and take-aways from the event.

As I was walking from my hotel to the San Diego Convention Center, my first thoughts were absorbed by the growing anxiety over COVID 19.  I wondered if I was crazy to travel with so much uncertainty. I wondered if many exhibitors and attendees had pulled out.  I expected a ghost town.  I worried how I would do a fist-bump with colleagues that go back thirty years.  All my questions were answered within 60 seconds of entering the building.  The place was jammed packed full, the Exhibit Hall was lit and lively and fully staffed, and I shook twenty hands without even a blink (instantly conquering a life-time habit of nail biting – cold turkey!).

If you have any interest in the work done by and for the Sea Services (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard) AFCEA WEST remains an excellent opportunity to learn and connect.  The conference was well attended by Flag Officers and key leadership:

  • All three Sea Service Chiefs (Chief of Naval Operations, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Commandants)
  • All the Systems Commanders (Naval Air Forces, Naval Information Forces, Naval Surface Forces and the USMC Training and Education Command)
  • The Navy’s new CIO
  • The Commander of Indo-Pacific Command
  • Third Fleet, Tenth Fleet, Marine Expeditionary Force, Coast Guard Pacific
  • DISA

Subject matter experts provided deep dives into most of the platforms and programs of interest.  The newest gear was on the floor to observe, including unmanned surface, subsurface and air platforms. There were a lot of learning opportunities at the event and here are my key take-aways:

  • FRAGO 1/2019: A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority – If you want to work with the sea services, download it and read it and commit to it.  Navy and Marine Corps worked together to publish it a few months ago.
    • FRAGO means Fragmentary Order – a quick way to push out a consolidated guidance across the Fleet. This one is all about the power of an Integrated Fleet, building cyber, electronic warfare, space and special operations into the Operational Centers and to our Coalition Partners.
  • CYBER is Commander’s Business!
    • Believe me, this was NOT the case when I was in the Navy! Now it’s not the just the geeks who get hammered when things go wrong with the networks.  The Commander has been fully charged with this responsibility – the same as if he/she ran the ship into a pile of rocks.
  • Data is the “new bacon”.
    • Ok, I have no clue what that means but I heard if from six separate flag officers. Bacon is good and we want it?  Or bacon is unhealthy, and we are going to get sick from it? Anyways….
    • It’s amazing to hear three- and four-star Admirals talk about data integrity and the importance of ensuring it is available in a multi-domain fight. There seems to be a shift away from “We have to secure the NETWORK”, towards “We’ll never really SECURE the network, so we have to secure the DATA”.
    • Lots of discussions about Identity Management and making sure YOU are YOU.
  • The budget is flat and will remain so. The result will be a decrease in buying power.  But it’s still $11B a year being spent on IT.
    • Navy spends about 6% of their top line on IT, significantly more than most large organizations (except the Financial Services sector, which is about the same as the Navy).
    • Navy remains committed to a 355 ship Navy but will depend on better integration of resources to ensure we can face a force like China.
  • Each Service Chief reassured the audience that, to date, there were NO cases of Sailors with the coronavirus.  Ships that were in ports with clusters of the virus have been ordered to maintain 14 days at sea to make sure they are virus free.  While some exercises have been postponed or cancelled, it has had (so far) a minor impact.
    • Everyone is a bit nervous about this summer’s RIMPAC 2020 exercise which will bring together over 25 Pacific Rim Nations (ships, planes, submarines, etc.) to the Hawaiian Islands. Many new technologies are tested at this exercise (Trident Warrior) and critical coalition training occurs.  Any slippage here would be cause a ripple down of problems with new technology integration and coalition war planning.
  • Speed to Capability – Acquisition efforts continue. Other Transactional Authorities (OTA’s) are being used across the Sea Services to build prototypes and get them funded and into the fleet as fast as practical.
    • I did see some pushback on FAST this time, however. Many leaders reinforced that speed isn’t always the best solution, we need to deliver capabilities that sailors can operate and that can be maintained, not just cool toys that break quickly or don’t integrate into other capabilities.
    • I saw a significant shift concerning Intellectual Property. Many companies complain that selling to DoD means giving up their family jewels, and some of the more innovative companies avoid DoD because of it.  New initiatives are being put in place to only purchase “the IP they need”, and we are seeing some complex agreements being worked up to the advantage of these companies.
  • The Navy’s Chief Information Officer, Aaron Weis brought a fresh perspective to the group. Mr. Weis is no career civil servant – he has an extensive background in industry, so he doesn’t think like the rest of the crowd.
    • He wants to aggressively pursue a cloud-based infrastructure to streamline the unwieldy DoD networks, calling them overly complex, topographically challenged and extremely difficult to defend.
    • He was recently onboard one of our newest Aircraft Carriers. He observed that we aren’t processing and fusing the information, we are just projecting it onto big screens and asking the humans in the room to sort it out.
    • He’s also committed to improving identity. Today, a twenty-year-sailor might have four or five different email addresses, depending on where he/she is stationed.  That has to stop.
      • Last month, LEIDOS won the huge $7.7 Billion contract, called NGEN-R (Next Generation Networks, Recompete). This unseated a twenty-year incumbent, sending a clear message that Navy wants something different.  It’s through this vehicle we can expect to see these networks finally merge together.

By the end of the conference, I had reconnected with hundreds of friends and colleagues, all working hard to give the Sea Services better capabilities.  I had played with some of the newest technologies available.  I was able to speak with dozens of active duty Information and Acquisition Professionals to hear their concerns (even the pilot of one of the new MQ-25’s!).  While improvements sometimes seem agonizingly incremental, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard continue to keep the sea lines of communications open.

Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris Ward (Commander, U.S. Navy (Retired)) has over 30 years of experience helping the Department of Defense (DoD) solve difficult technology requirements. She has a proven track record of building, maintaining, securing and certifying technology solutions for use within DoD. She works with Industry to identify key opportunities and provides strategic guidance and support. She is a strategic analyst and cybersecurity professional who has deep expertise in improving enterprise cybersecurity.