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Budget Cuts Threaten Shipboard Computer Network Upgrades
By Dan Parsons

The Navy’s new fleet computer network could fall victim to the budget ax if lawmakers are unable to avoid sequestration in less than two weeks.

If a compromise on federal spending isn’t signed by March 1, the Navy will have to cancel all scheduled ship maintenance for the entire second half of the current fiscal year, Rear Adm. William E. Leigher, director of warfare integration for information dominance, said Feb. 19. That means delaying indefinitely the installation of the new Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services aboard at least eight ships, Leigher told a gathering of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

The system will provide each ship in the Navy’s fleet with a common computing environment, allowing the Navy to field applications without having to develop new hardware in the future.

But living on a continuing resolution that freezes the service’s funding at fiscal 2012 levels, while coping with the possibility of sequester, has forced the Navy to rethink its installation schedule, which will have a trickle-down effect of delaying work on the system aboard 190 ships and submarines. Together, the two fiscal penalties could shave nearly $50 billion from the Navy’s total budget, he said.

“The CR has an immediate impact and it will have a lasting effect on readiness,” Leigher said. “It’s going to have impacts across all the things we do, but it starts in readiness. Eventually it will come through … as we probably won’t have the shipyard availabilities we would have expected to see, that a system that I was depending on like CANES or upgrades to shipboard networks won’t be installed on some ships,” he said.

CANES is the latest immediate impact of looming austerity that could add up to $1 trillion being excised from defense spending over the next decade. As sequestration looms in the near distance, Pentagon officials and high-level military officers are beginning to list specific examples of the impacts of what they consider draconian budget cuts. A deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group to the Middle East has already been canceled because of tight budgets. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos last week hinted at canceling deployment of two Marine Expeditionary Units.

A delay in the installation of CANES systems could spell trouble for other modernization plans within the cybersecurity and electronic warfare realms, Leigher said. The system is a stepping-stone to what ideally will be a common computing “environment” that is shared by all the military services everywhere in the world called the Joint Information Environment. The Defense Department’s hundreds of stovepiped networks would be consolidated within the JIE, which for now is only an ethereal concept, Leigher said. But the lofty goal might actually be more plausible because of fiscal constraint, because the overall goal is simplification and efficiency, he added.

“We’ve got to get a simpler model,” Leigher said, singling out the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, which alone has 350,000 access points. “It’s really about JIE, in a sense … something that becomes more possible in the downturn environment than it might have been otherwise.”

With tools like the Navy Integrated Fire Control Counter Air, targeting data from can be shared by an unmanned system, a surface ship at sea and an F-22 far overhead, he said.

The Defense Department will have to consider how it will manage information within a JIE. Better artificial intelligence could help filter the flood of data collected by unmanned systems and other sensors, which would require fewer analysts and in turn save cash.

“The Air Force has done a really good job getting full-motion video to ground troops in Afghanistan,” Leigher said. But it was accomplished through an expensive strategy of “throwing people at the problem,” Leigher said.

“That will work, but as you read time and time again, our people are our most expensive” resource, he said. “We’ve got to have a better way to approach this. That was the brute-force industrial-age response to how we deal with volume” of data.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


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