When Rear Adm. Christian “Boris” Becker took the reins as commander of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in March 2017 he said his top priority was the fleet. A year later, it’s still a top priority. He spoke recently with C4ISRNET about recruiting cyber talent, his role in evaluating the McCain collision and the rise of data scientists.
C4ISRNET: We hear a lot about information warfare. What is information warfare as it relates to your mission?
BECKER: An analogous description might be to look at the systems commands that are in the Navy. You have, for example, Naval Sea Systems Command … ships and submarines. Naval Air Systems Command, delivering aircraft and air-launched weapons.
SPAWAR is the information warfare systems command, delivering cyber capabilities — as we say in our mission statement, from the seabed to space. Whether those capabilities are software-related or satellites operating at 22,000 miles above the earth, we deliver the Navy’s information warfare capabilities.
What defines information warfare? I think it’s less specific than it might be for Naval Sea Systems Command or Naval Air Systems Command, but information warfare relates to the war-fighting capabilities of the network, intelligence systems, cryptographic systems, meteorological systems, communications systems — the very networks on which we operate today, at sea, in the expeditionary environment and ashore. Information warfare spans from our Naval Enterprise Network all the way to delivering satellite communications for ships at sea.
C4ISRNET: What have been your top priorities since taking over at SPAWAR, and how would you say you’re doing in meeting those priorities?
BECKER: My first priority is people. Without our people, we can’t deliver on the mission. I think that we’ve worked hard over the past year to make sure SPAWAR is the kind of place where people want to come to work.
The second priority is the mission. I’ve spent time over the past year thinking about how we should focus our efforts to deliver on our mission. We’ve distilled that into three main thrusts.
The first is to accelerate and streamline the delivery of our capabilities. The second is to drive cyber resiliency and the third is to optimize our organization, our operations and our workforce. Each of those three areas are where I see us able to articulate the focus that we need to bring our Navy forward into the 21st century.
Within those, I think of it in terms of things like digitizing our Navy — what does that mean? Part of it is simply to capture the data that we have today from personnel to logistics to command and control, and recognize the resources that those data represent, capture the data and understand what that can tell us.
C4ISRNET: How does that manifest itself?
BECKER: The term data scientist I don’t think existed a decade ago or, if it did, it was in a very niche area. Today we are recruiting data scientists across the board because we see the value of data as a resource and as an enabler for information warfare.
Digitizing our Navy, that’s things like delivering on CANES [Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services], delivering on our information warfare platform. It’s things like exploring how additive manufacturing can change our business model, change our ability to respond in a timely manner when we need maintenance or sustainment, or even change how we think about delivering capabilities. Because with additive manufacturing, there’s potential to create designs that previously were unachievable in production.
It’s exciting to think about the possibilities … whether that’s using 3-D scanning to create digital twins of the interiors or exteriors of our ships, or creating a cyber workforce that understands that nature of the digital battlefield.
C4ISRNET: What have been your biggest command challenges?
BECKER: It goes back to people, and the competition for talent. There’s more than enough work to go around for the folks who understand this domain and want to be a part of it. But, here in San Diego as an example, of the cybersecurity workforce that exists here, there are about 7,000 folks that would fit that bill. About half of them work for SPAWAR or SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific. I think we’re attracting the talent we need but we need to keep doing that.
Resources are tight. That puts the pressure on us to make sure we can meet the requirements we have, but it also forces us to think innovatively about how we can meet those requirements with the significant pressure on those resources. We’re operating today under a continuing resolution, and the unpredictability does have an effect on our ability, and industry’s ability, to meet our requirements.
C4ISRNET: We’ve seen an expanded role for the Navy’s cyber and IT elements when it comes to investigating incidents like the McCain collision. What’s SPAWAR’s role?
BECKER: SPAWAR is part of the broader Navy team assessing a comprehensive review regarding the recent collisions. It’s important to understand the causal factors, contributing factors and systemic factors that led to those mishaps and the tragic loss of 17 of our shipmates. We take this very seriously as a responsibility on our part to be a contributor to the comprehensive review.
The role that SPAWAR played is important in the sense that we played a role. And that’s an indicator of the new reality of today, where our systems across the board are reliant on the network — whichever network that may be. Mechanical; electrical; position, navigation and timing; communications … those capabilities are in some way network-based. As a result, SPAWAR is engaged not only in mishap investigations, but also in determining how we will fight on those networks, protect those networks, and how we’ll use those capabilities in the future and ensure their resiliency.
That’s a role SPAWAR has not played in the past. And that leads me to include in our strategic vision for the next 10 years that we will drive cyber resiliency not just within SPAWAR, but also throughout the fleet. That starts with designing in resiliency from the beginning, implementing IT standards, and making sure that when we deliver the capability for which we’re responsible, those are up-to-date, integrated properly, secure and ready for sailors to operate and maintain.