The speed of technological development can often be faster than the pace of mission, and the military services are trying to close that gap, especially since the speed of world events can outpace both.
Procurement and acquisition processes also need to catch up to the rate at which technology is moving, and that will be one of the focuses of the WEST 2024 conference, which begins Tuesday in San Diego.
“Our acquisition system was really developed around building large capital ships, and it moves on a five- to seven-year cycle,” says Paul Fredenburgh III, executive vice president for national security and defense for , a co-sponsor of the event with the U.S. Naval Institute.
“Is that enough to keep up with innovation? Is it rapid enough to enable a very modern warfighting service? That’s the larger picture,” he adds.
At the — the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard — attendees will hear from Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro; Adm. Lisa Franchetti, chief of naval operations; Adm. Sam Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet; and Rear Adm. Doug Small, commander of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, among others.
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Priorities Include Improved Data Analysis, Quicker Tech Updates
Future priorities for the sea services may include modular acquisition — the concept of creating and/or buying systems that can be easily swapped out aboard a ship that hasn’t yet aged out of service, Fredenburgh says. “Ship technology isn’t changing that fast, but these other forms of technology are.”
In addition, the Navy and its marine partners are trying to leverage the digital environment and emerging technologies to enhance operations and decision-making, he says.
“How do they collect data, synthesize it, sort that data, make decisions and then send that data back to the best weapon system they have to fix a problem in a warfighting scenario?” he says.
“There are emerging threats that our adversaries are attempting to exploit and take advantage of. The battlefield is increasingly complex. The sea services want to leverage emerging technology and capabilities to meet these challenges.”
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Sea Services Face a Unique Technology Challenge
Mission resiliency is key for all of the military services, the Army and Air Force included, but the sea services have an extra challenge beyond those common throughout the DOD and the Coast Guard: their ships.
With their steel walls, small spaces, limited-access hatches and assignments in corrosive seawater, ships are not always a welcoming environment for technology.
“There is no technology that does not go shipboard,” says Ron Stimbert, enterprise consultant architect at CDW•G. “Storage, network computing, video, teleconferencing cameras, IP phones, security: It all has to be customized and operational shipboard. They’re floating data centers and floating managed service providers.”
The Navy’s Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services program does provide a common environment for onboard operations, but the service can struggle with finding the right people to keep it functioning at the edge, he says. “It’s a challenge to design enterprise systems that can be used by untrained 18-year-olds in a shipboard environment.”
Services are looking for automation solutions that can help in some of those areas, Fredenburgh says: “In the near future, we’re going to see a concerted effort to leverage digital and information technology to enable the services to achieve the right balance between manned and unmanned systems.”
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