Data and system integration is a buzzword that’s popular in speeches by military leaders and common in defense contractor sales pitches. But quantifying the importance of that integration can be a slippery task.

During a panel in San Diego, California, at West 2018, Vice Adm. Matthew Kohler, the commander of Naval Information Forces, provided a clear example of how critical that integration has become.

Before the Navy deploys a strike group, leaders send a specialized team of IT experts at a cost of about $1 million a pop to ensure that network systems within each ship and from ship-to-ship work seamlessly together, he said.

The teams are made up of a rotating cast that can run from 60 to as many 100 people, many of whom are contractors with varied specialties.

Kohler said the Navy “cherry-picks talent … just to get the systems to work together how they’re supposed to.”

“While this might not have been important the last 15 or 20 years, the kinds of threats we’re facing today and preparing our forces to operate in, all of [the systems have] to work,” he said. “It will be the little things that will kill us.”

Kohler, who is slated to become the Navy’s director of intelligence, noted the teams — formally known as Deploying Group Systems Integration Testing, or DGSIT — are necessary because of the “the highly complex nature of the systems.”

These teams identify problems with the ships’ Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Collaboration and Intelligence (C5I) systems and specifically look for problems in integration or connectivity that might only be apparent when examining how several ships work together.

The teams are assembled and operate a few times a year, but by changing the makeup of the teams to cater to problems related to each strike group, the Navy can save money and focus on specific problems, said Vince Kapral, deputy director of Naval Information Forces. Otherwise, keeping such staff on hand would be massively unaffordable.

Also during the panel, Kenneth Bible, currently the deputy director of the command, control, communications and computers for the Marine Corps, was introduced as the next acting chief information officer for the service.