Navy's ship IT modernization program faces budget-related delays

Wednesday - 2/20/2013, 5:45am EST

Jared Serbu, DoD reporter, Federal News Radio

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The Navy, which is at the beginning of an ambitious effort to modernize and streamline the IT infrastructure on virtually all of its warships, likely will have to push back its plans to install a system known as CANES on more than a half dozen vessels in 2013.

The Navy's forecast is the result of budget pressure in the current year and comes just over a week before automatic budget cuts are set to kick in. Irrespective of the impending March 1 sequestration cuts, the Pentagon already had told the service to cancel all previously-scheduled ship maintenance in the third and fourth quarter of fiscal 2013 if Congress had not come to some resolution on the current year's budget by Feb. 15.

In connection with the loss of those maintenance availabilities, officials currently predict they'll have to cancel around eight of the CANES installations the Navy had planned for 2013, said Rear Adm. William Leigher, who serves on the Navy's Pentagon staff as director of warfighting integration.

CANES, the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services program, is the Navy's intended remedy to the fact that currently, each ship in the fleet is its own floating IT stovepipe. Few shipboard networks are designed exactly the same way, and there are at least three broader networks that serve the entire fleet. CANES aims to consolidate all of that into a single, standards-based architecture.

Looking for other options for installation

The system is currently being installed on its very first ship, the U.S.S. Milius, and is roughly 30 percent complete. The Navy had planned a total of 26 installations this year on its way to 192 ships by 2020 under a full deployment plan it prepared for presentation to industry in December.

Rear Adm. William Leigher, director of warfare integration for information dominance, Navy

Officials previously said that they needed to schedule CANES installations during those prescheduled, exhaustive overhaul periods, because replacing and upgrading the full battery of networking equipment is an extremely intrusive process. The Navy is having the work performed under the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command's preexisting multiple-award Global Installation Contract, which includes four vendors.

The Navy, Leigher told a luncheon in Arlington, Va., sponsored by AFCEA's Washington chapter, is investigating other options such as outfitting ships with CANES while they're parked at piers outside of their scheduled maintenance periods or launching service life extension programs to keep the legacy IT systems on a given ship running for a while longer.

He suggested some of those options might be available if the reduced steaming hours the Navy has already implemented, such as the delayed deployment of the U.S.S. Truman, remain in place.

"But I think the other piece that gets pressurized is what the global force management system demands, and how that prioritizes how we spend our money," he said. "One of the things that had to happen in order for the Truman not to sail was to back off of the [two-carrier presence in the Middle East]. If that changes though, it changes this again. But right now we would see changes to about eight ships."

Stepping stone to less complexity

It's not yet clear how the delays would impact CANES' overall cost or schedule. Navy officials have been proud of the program so far, saying that the use of commercial standards and competition caused it to beat initial cost estimates by more than 40 percent in the design phase of the project.

Leigher said CANES also is one of the stepping stones the Navy needs to start bringing more simplicity to a vast IT enterprise that up until now has been excessively complex.

"I envy many of you with 20,000-seat networks," he said. "If you take our NMCI network alone, we're talking about 320,000 seats. It's a daunting task, and when you have weak governance in an enterprise that big, it's really hard. We've got to get away from this complexity model."

On the shore-side of the Navy's IT operation, the service began making its infrastructure less complex. Over the past two years, it's been inventorying its data centers, applications and servers and imposing governance designed to cut out costs and begin the process of migrating disparate technology systems to a future cloud-based architecture.

Leigher said CANES will at least give the afloat side of the Navy a common network architecture, but it's still wrestling through how to leverage concepts like cloud computing on deployed ships, where real-time connections to DoD's global information grid almost are always limited, and in the case of submarines, intentionally nonexistent.

"We've got to figure out what this means for warfighting," he said. "Do you get an advantage if you can get all the data you need to do anti-submarine warfare in the western Pacific? Do you get better visibility amongst the task forces? That's what we have to figure out. We've got a couple of pilot programs with the Office of Naval Research with the Navy Tactical Cloud, and it's going to go through and look at anti-air warfare, anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare as vignettes to understand how we do this. At the same time, we have to take the data center closures we've been doing for the last year-and-a-half and bring that into our (enterprise resource planning) systems as well, so that we can see a seamless environment between our operational picture, our intelligence picture and our business environment."

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