Modernization effort involves balancing efficiency with cybersecurity

Three years into the Navy’s effort to modernize fleet tactical networks, the service says it has cut down by more than half the time it takes to install the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services on aircraft carriers and other vessels.

A systems overhaul that once took a year and a half can now be completed in seven months.

“We’re still looking to do more,” said Capt. Kurt Rothenhaus, program manager for the Tactical Networks Program Office within Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence, or PEO C4I. “We are always looking to reduce the installation times. We are looking at ways to do more automatic testing, to do more of the install in an automated fashion.”

The network has been deployed at more than 50 units out of a planned 190 ships, submarines and maritime operations centers. The Navy is eager to streamline the network upgrades, which can cut into a vessel’s operating time. It has taken a range of measures to speed up the deployment of Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services, or CANES, which aims to consolidate existing, separately managed networks including the Integrated Shipboard Network System, the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System Maritime, sensitive compartmented information networks and the Submarine Local Area Network.

The enhanced deployment timeline “has been a collaborative effort with the fleet, the maintenance community and our industry partners,” Rothenhaus said.

Some of the time savings come from close coordination. By organizing the deployment of new network resources in a shared workflow alongside other maintenance activities, it is possible to sequence efforts more efficiently. Upgrades do require network outages, “but it is very sequenced, very planned in terms of the evolution of taking down the existing LAN, migrating those users to a temporary LAN and then migrating them back up onto the new network,” he said, using an acronym for local area network.

Project leaders also have worked to make the new systems easier to install, for example by preloading programs into the system before taking the new equipment down to the dock. “We have been able to install more of the software before we get on board the platform, doing more inside our production facilities,” Rothenhaus said.

Project leaders also have tweaked the processes by which new applications are loaded onto CANES. “It’s a more efficient organization of the application load. We’re sequencing that better to make a more efficient flow,” Rothenhaus added.

Navy leaders have promised CANES will deliver significant enhancements in the afloat compute environment. “The operating systems that exist today on some of those legacy networks are not sustainable. CANES allows us to deploy current operating systems and then upgrade or stay current with future changes to those operating systems in a more cost-effective and timely way,” Rear Adm. Christian Becker said at the time of the program’s launch. Then the Navy’s program executive officer for C4I, he’s now the head of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, or SPAWAR.

The cyber factor

In August 2014, SPAWAR awarded full-production contracts, with an estimated cumulative value of $2.5 billion, to five vendors. The program has evolved in the subsequent years. In addition to streamlining the installation, program managers are putting an increased emphasis on cybersecurity aspects of the system.

“We recognize the Navy’s systems afloat are prime targets to potential cyber adversaries, so it is first and foremost in our engineering and planning,” Rothenhaus said. “We have continued to make investments to improve the cyber resiliency of the system.”

One specific evolution on the cyber front involves the means by which news of a potential vulnerability is communicated across the Navy to CANES-upgraded vessels. “One of the things we do focus on is speed — getting a mitigation to a cyberthreat or a new piece of software as rapidly as possible from the engineering team out to the fleet,” he said. “We have made investments to automate and more quickly release updates to support better cyber resiliency.”

CANES leaders say they are looking beyond cyber as well, watching the evolving tech landscape for changes that could impact the network, especially in fast-growth areas such as data analytics and machine learning. “As the demand for those types of emerging technologies progresses, we envision CANES as a platform for delivering that capacity,” Rothenhaus said.