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[] US Navy dumps Microsoft, makes network the weapon,

US Navy dumps Microsoft, makes network the weapon

By Doug Mohney
21 July 2003

THE UNITED STATES Navy is quietly and aggressively touting its horn on
adapting a Network-Centric philosophy, one that will win them brownie
points with Donald Rumsfeld and the current wave of "transformational"  
thinking flowing through the Pentagon. To rework the old cliche, the
network is the weapon, more specifically the glue that binds together
sensors and weapons, allowing warfighters to view the battlefield more
precisely and apply the force necessary to achieve desired "effects."  
The new way of fighting is built around Internet standards, including
web pages, routers, Ethernet, instant messaging, and chat rooms.  
Casualties appear to be both expensive customized systems and
Microsoft software.

According to retired Admiral Dennis McGinn, now in private industry
and an NBC analyst, the U.S. Navy has embraced the information age
with more successes than failures. Presenting at the SuperNova 2003
conference, McGinn described the overhaul of fleet decision-making
from a stove-piped set of legacy system using Mil-Spec CRT monitors to
a quick purchase of off-the-shelf "smart boards" incorporated into a
display wall (Oh, and the off-the-shelf equipment used less power and
was cooler to boot). Sailors and officers, once laboring under the
burden of daily PowerPoint presentations, went web-crazy, putting and
updating information in real-time on a web-site and sharing the
information using the Navy's secure network.

Naval Allies saw the new toys in action during a war game and wanted
to plug in to share the data wealth. Unlike the Yanks, they didn't
have a lot of cash, so they too went the COTS (commercial,
off-the-shelf) route and joined up in a Coalition Wide-Area Network
linked together by Inmarsat 64Kbps satellite links and Lotus Notes.  
The WAN was put together in weeks and was used to coordinate
everything thing from anti-sub warfare to live fire missile shoots.

Organization and planning, once highly centralized, became very flat
and horizontal, commanders getting out of the way with a few
exceptions. Chat rooms were used to exchange data in real time between
units so much McGinn told his staff only half-jokingly, "If the war is
going to start in a chat room, please make sure I'm in the chat room."

However, the cornucopia of information flow needs to be shaped and
processed. Information in the network-centric world? especially on a
war-footing ? needs to be current, accurate, comprehensive, and
relevant. If the data being passed around meets those criteria, said
McGinn, it should result in better and faster decisions. Pull out one
of those four characteristics, and there's a problem.

Challenges of the network-centric world include the security of
information (Don't want to be shooting at false targets), bandwidth,
and the whole concept of information warfare. Bandwidth was a
particularly hot button issue. The Navy has been a wireless shop from
day one, ships can't always get the bandwidth they want when they need
it. Satellites currently provide the "backbone" for operational needs,
but the number of satellite hops to pass around information is clumsy
and there was the unspoken fear of "Gee, what happens if we lose the
satellite." Line-of-site communication with data-rates of at least
8-10 Mbps seems to be the wave of the future as well as turning every
node into a repeater.

McGinn's evangelizing is supplemented by two articles published in the
July 2003 Proceedings, the hard-copy magazine of the U.S. Naval
Institute by Lieutenant Pet Majeranowki and Captain Eileen MacKrell
respectively. MacKrell's account is particularly amusing. Since the
carrier battle group used a web site with information updated in real
time by all participants, briefings for command staff were done
directly from the site, rather than the old-fashioned method of a
daily PowerPoint briefing. The dumping of PowerPoint freed up
MacKrell's assistant to stand watches onboard ship and train junior
officers. µ

* INQBLOT it hasn't happened in Her Majesty's Royal Navy yet. A
programme last night about the nuclear submarine HMS Splendid, clearly
shows Windows software being used not only in the sub, but also at the
command HQ in Northwood, just a few miles down the road from the

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