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Naval warfare systems chief sees improvement in strategic planning

February 14, 2017 (Photo Credit: Navy)
Embarking on its third year of written strategic planning, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) is gearing up for a new era with a wide array of diverse threats and technical challenges associated with preparing the fleet’s ships — and other assets — to face adversaries head on.

Rear Adm. David Lewis, SPAWAR’s commander, recently spoke with C4ISRNET Reporter Mark Pomerleau about the 2017 strategic plan.  

C4ISRNET: Can you provide some thoughts on the outcome of the 2017 plan?

Rear Adm. David Lewis: I don’t know how much experience you have with strategic planning — I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with it over the last 15 years or so. But at SPAWAR it’s been going pretty well.

It’s kind of like planning a trip if you were going to drive from New York to L.A. What we’re going to talk about today is the Chicago to Denver leg. 

So we’ve been doing this for a couple of years. You don’t just jump in your car and take a drive like that. You have to check the tires — it turned out we needed new tires — clean out the trunk, those sorts of things.

We made it to Chicago and we’re about to embark on the middle part of the journey. This is our third year of this kind of strategic planning. We did some really good things over the last couple of years, specifically in 2016.

C4ISRNET: This year’s strategy is drilling down one more level in specificity from the 2016 plan. Why the added specificity from this year’s plan to last year?

Lewis: One of the areas we’ve been focused on a lot is what we call accelerate and streamline delivery. When you look at the math, we can only do installations during large industrial availabilities — we call them [Chief of Naval Operations] availabilities because they’re scheduled through the CNO — every ship gets one of those about every 28 to 32 months, that’s the cycle. So if you can only touch a ship once every three or four years, if we want to field something new, it’s going to take five to seven years to get through the whole fleet.

With IT equipment, to deliver it at the rate of one- to two-year cycle times and us getting to the fleet every five to seven years, that’s clearly not going to work. So we spent the last couple of years restructuring ourselves to be able to do that and in 2017 now, we think we’re going to be able to accelerate our delivery cycle times. The key to that strategy is to get as much of our work out of that heavy industrial period as we can.

This year we’re focusing on doing much of our modernization off cycle — out of the CNO availabilities — and that requires some fairly significant changes in how we design and build our systems. We’ve done all the infrastructure work to get started with that before and so 2017 is when we’re really pushing that out for the first time — major modernizations in [the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services system] and Operation Rolling Tide upgrades. 

This is really an important area for us in 2017; the accelerated stream line delivery objective.

Part of that is every ship tends to be fielded a little bit differently. That’s kind of how we’ve been doing business for a long time. We call them C4I baselines — which are common baselines that cross multiple ships of a class so that we can be delivering to a common equipment suite. That dramatically cuts down on how much customization we need to do for each ship. We’ve done that — we’ve got the defined baselines and now we’re starting to field those in the budgeting process and in the fleet. In 2017, we’re starting to see those baselines be fielded in a coherent way. 

End state two is enabling modern IT service delivery — so this is the cloud, data centers, that kind of stuff. In that case, we’ve actually had a pretty successful 2016. We basically got rid of all Blackberries in [the continental U.S.], so in 2017 we’ll be eliminating them overseas and we’ll be eliminating them in the fleet.

We’re also doing data center consolidation. We consolidated 33 data centers last year. We’ll continue that process this year.

The other area is taking the Navy to the cloud. That’s really going to be embedded in our NGEN recompete coming out next year, and expect to see a very dramatic improvement and expansion of the Navy’s presence in the cloud. We have a cloud access point — for a long time the Navy was the only [Defense Department]-authorized cloud access point, but that’s not true anymore. We got a lot of experience in 2016 in that and we’re pushing that and taking it to the next level in 2017. 

The next area is end state three: own cyber technical leadership. Again, we’ve done a lot of basic work up until now. We decided we wanted to use the [National Institute of Standards and Technology] standards. We’ve adopted all of that with all of the other [systems commands]. 

For 2017 it’s implementing that and also implementing the risk management framework (RMF), which replaces our older process for authorizing systems to be used in the fleet. We’ve started to do RMF authorizations — kind of a crawl, walk, run. We’re moving into the walk and run phase in 2017.

End state four, is a little bit harder: reduce the cost of operations. That’s always a challenge. As I mentioned, we spend a lot of time with our current installations, we’re on the ships during CNO availabilities. That takes a lot of time, those availabilities tend to run four to seven, eight months long; tremendous amount of costs in being on the ship. So the first thing to do is shorten those installation intervals; that is going to inherently reduce our costs of operations because we’re spending less time on the ship and we take that effort and that work and move it back into our labs. Ideally we move it back into our vendors so that when they build the equipment for us, it’s delivered to the Nay more tested than it is today. 

The last area is our support contracting. [There’s] a lot of discussion about support services and support contracts. We’ve been trying a couple of different ways to make that more effective and I haven’t been happy with the results. So in 2017 we’re taking that as a principle focus area to look at how we do our support contracting services: This is for our program office support, logistics support and other areas to support [and sustain] our programs. So we’re taking a very focused look at that this year. 

I think it’s a solvable problem. 

C4ISRNET: What do you think is the most important component or pillar of the strategy?

Lewis: A lot of people think with cybersecurity you can patch and scan your way to being secure. Read the NIST stuff; you can’t patch and scan your way to security. The only way to be secure is to consistently and quickly modernize systems. As new updated versions of hardware and software operating systems come out, you need to bring those into the force as quickly as possible. That’s what builds in cybersecurity. 

To me, accelerating and streaming delivery is the key because that tightens the installation timeline to modernize the fleet more quickly, and because we can build technology on-ramps it allows us to more quickly bring those newer, more secure products — commercial products — into the force. So to me they’re all connected but the real measure in the end is, are we modernizing the systems in the fleet as quickly as they need to be modernized?

C4ISRNET: What have you learned from the last three years of crafting and working these strategic plans through each year and what lessons will you be applying to the 2018 strategy?

Lewis: I’ve been doing strategic planning for about 15 years and I’ve been unhappy for the last 12 of those. The last three years — it’s actually gone pretty well. I think it’s gone well because we don’t do it as an adjunct to the day-to-day business of the command — it is the day-to-day business of the command. 

When we have a problem or a crisis, the discussion is how did this happen, why did this happen, are we doing the things — the big things, the strategic things — to make this particular thing not happen again? And if the answer is no, [do] we go back and look at our plan and see if we should be doing something else? That’s really what’s guided us each of the last three years in selecting topics that we’re going to pursue in our strategic planning.

What we’ve done over the past two years and into our third year is drill down one level deeper. Each time we took a pass at it and fixed those things that we saw each year. In doing that, it’s like peeling an onion — we find new issues and it’s been successful each year.

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