The navy goes network
March 23, 1999
by Tom Diederich
SAN FRANCISCO (IDG) -- The Navy's 3rd Fleet has concluded a week of experiments off the Northern California coast designed to test how commercial, off-the-shelf technologies hold up under 21st-century battle conditions.
The operation was part of Fleet Battle Experiment Echo, the fifth in a series of experiments launched in 1997 to help the Navy achieve "network-centric warfare" capabilities within the next decade, according to Lt. Cmdr. Dan Shanower.
During the Cold War, the Navy focused on patrolling vast expanses of open sea, looking for Soviet vessels. Now, though, "unconventional threats" have expanded the Navy's focus to include coastal and inland waters, areas where some of the Navy's top defense systems are less effective.
One experiment used Web-based technology to track small submarines close to shore. Using the U.S. military's classified version of the Internet, the Navy developed Web sites designed to disseminate submarine-related information collected from sensors in and above water. Together, the data provides a portrait of undersea conditions along coastal regions and alerts sailors to possible threats. Similar Web sites track missiles and unauthorized aircraft.
The information is shared among all branches of the military, so that the best weapon or tactic needed to eliminate a specific target can be used, Shanower said. "We don't want to waste a very expensive long-range missile like Tomahawk if we can take out that same target just as accurately with a very cheap weapon," he said.
"It's all about war-fighting efficiency. We're going to have fewer sailors, fewer ships and few dollars," he added. "How can we take advantage of that by leveraging other resources? It means working with the other services. We bring special capabilities to bear, as well as they do. We need to get the best of those capabilities for each problem."
To save time and money, the military is also increasingly turning to commercial software and hardware instead of custom ordering products to military specifications.
"The money we save by not having to design our own [networking software] from scratch is fantastic," Shanower said this week during a press tour of the USS Coronado.
"The change has been revolutionary and really incredible," he added. "When I came to this staff two years ago, we shared a few computers among a cluster of officers. Now we've got literally hundreds of these Pentium-based, [year 2000]-compliant systems on a LAN within the ship. We can do 90% of our work on that LAN, and it's the exact same software, Microsoft Office, that I use at home."
Tom Diederich is a reporter for Computerworld.
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