PATUXENT RIVER, Maryland– Delivering warfighting capability the fleet needs to win, at a cost we can afford is the main focus of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). Keeping pace with rapidly evolving technology and near-peer threats in a constrained resource environment are among the many challenges facing today’s Navy and Marine Corps. NAVAIR leaders shared their strategy and opportunities for partnership with industry at a recent meeting hosted by The Patuxent Partnership and Southern Maryland Navy Alliance.
Jerry Short, acting NAVAIR Deputy Commander, began the meeting by outlining the current environment and reinforcing the Secretary of the Navy’s priorities. “The Navy and Marine Corps will continue to be the tip of the spear when we talk about protecting our prosperity and our security and maintaining our advantage at sea,” Short said. “When you look at this current environment, we continue to see an increased pressure in terms of near-peer competition … We are focusing on innovation and modernization, making sure our warfighters have what they need from a capability standpoint so we can win the fight tonight, tomorrow and in the future. ”
Short said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had changed the workplace, creating an opportunity to accelerate the transition to a new hybrid operating environment, with a mix of on-site and teleworking personnel. He noted that maintenance, test programs, and classified operations required a good number of personnel to remain onsite, take proper safety precautions during the pandemic, and ensure mission readiness. He shared NAVAIR’s plan to bring more employees back onsite in the near future but said that technology gives NAVAIR the opportunity to maintain a hybrid-model workforce long term.
Sue DeGuzman, acting Engineering Group director for NAVAIR, highlighted acquisition trends and technology challenges and identify areas where the industry can assist in meeting those challenges, particularly the shift from a platform-based approach to a capabilities-based acquisition focus. She began by describing a YouTube video wherein the crew aboard the deck of an aircraft carrier was performing assigned duties perfectly. She quickly realized the crew was comprised of Chinese sailors working aboard a Chinese carrier, using the exact same signals and crew assignments as those aboard a U.S. Navy vessel. For obvious reasons, DeGuzman said the Navy needs to change how it operates in order to keep ahead of near-peer adversaries.
“The bottom line is we’ve been doing the same operations for 200 years,” DeGuzman said. “We develop aircraft, missiles, and ships and send them into threat areas and people notice. Our adversaries have observed our military and our methods and develop strategies to disrupt or potentially deny the Navy’s ability to answer threats.”
DeGuzman emphasized that with limited funding and shifting military missions, we must prioritize our efforts to get the fleet what it needs when they need it. She highlighted three strategies: maintain our competitive advantage and advance our capabilities; build the naval operational architecture to connect and enable our forces, including joint partners and allies; and engage with our fleet counterparts to develop tactics to match our capabilities.
In terms of changing fleet tactics, DeGuzman highlighted the implementation of Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO). She said this approach employs a dispersed, networked fleet of smaller vessels in contrast with large carrier strike groups. These smaller contingents of vessels and aircraft, both manned and unmanned, are networked with an array of sensors and weapons.
One of the biggest challenges the Navy faces is limited funding. DeGuzman said it is “no secret to anyone” that there is limited funding for military operations, leading acquisition to take a more prioritized approach.
“We need to support what the Fleet is asking for: capability,” she said. “As you think about a changing threat in a changing environment, you have to adjust and listen to your operators. They tell us where there are gaps in their capability and then we, as an acquisition organization, listen to those fleet operators and change what we are buying to address those gaps so they can accomplish the mission.”
DeGuzman said prioritizing funding is one way to address the issue, but also said strengthening relationships with other armed services and allies and developing communication strategies is key to filling capability gaps.
“We have to support (DMO) with integrated arrays of sensors and weapons with advanced communication systems, like cloud computing, and be able to collect and compile data to give it to users in a very fast environment. We need systems that will filter out information and provide it to the operators in real-time to make decisions.”
DeGuzman said NAVAIR’s change to a capability-based acquisition strategy was brought about by the need for aircraft and vessels to communicate across wider areas. The goal is to create the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), a method of connecting sensors from across all services into a single network. These sensors will identify the target and then find the best solution from a combination of platforms/capabilities across the services. Networks, data architecture, staffing, and infrastructure are foundational to successful implementation.
“That is the only way we can accomplish collaboration and get rid of gaps in our capability: By using all the information available in all of the services and communicating to find the best solution.”
She also highlighted this need is becoming increasingly vital as the DoD integrates more unmanned systems into the fleet. While unmanned systems are providing many advances in capability, the need to incorporate communications between the current and future systems is clear.
DeGuzman said NAVAIR has revitalized the Integrative Warfighter Capability Community of Practice, which is developing a portfolio of capability gaps, figuring out how to fill those gaps, and then taking their findings to leadership with ideas for solutions—keeping in mind funding restraints and other obstacles.
Steve Cricchi, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) executive director, punctuated DeGuzman’s presentation in noting the evolution of priorities and funding challenges.
“There’s an expansion of demand for rapid technology insertion and advanced capability, solutions for integrative warfighting capability in a contested environment with a contraction of resourcing for the supporting organizations that provide that technology and those solutions. It’s a team sport,” Cricchi said. “We have to apply critical thinking and tailor solutions … We have to create smaller, leaner, more agile, and empowered teams to get things done quickly.”