Welders and engineers are hard at work installing the first version of the Navy’s new effort to standardize the way it does information technology at sea as the service tries to collapse dozens of types of shipboard networks into a single common architecture that’s used across the fleet.
The Navy plans to install its Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) system on more than 190 ships between now and 2020. The first such ship, the San Diego-based destroyer U.S.S. Milius, is being outfitted right now. The work began a week ago, after the Pentagon gave its assent to what’s referred to as “milestone C” on an IT project’s complicated path through the military acquisition system.
That green light lets the Navy install CANES on 23 ships in the limited fielding phase of the program.
Rear Adm. Jerry Burroughs, the Navy’s program executive officer for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, said CANES will replace a hodgepodge of IT networks across the fleet that were so diverse that even within five basic network architectures, each ship in the fleet tended to have its own customizations.
“It’s a more standardized system. You can go from one ship to another and it will be virtually identical,” he said. “If it’s a different ship class, it will be scalable, so the capacity will be greater or lesser, but the architecture will be identical. The training and sustaining piece of this is big, and the information assurance piece of it is also big.”
New way of doing business
Burroughs and other Navy officials behind CANES are proud of their program, even while the first holes are being drilled on the ships that will use it. They tout it not just as a new IT system, but as a new way of doing business.
It’s different for several reasons, said Capt. D.J. LeGoff, the Navy program manager responsible for CANES: The program requires the use of commercial technology, and proprietary solutions are basically forbidden. While the contract to design the fleet-wide architecture went to a huge defense contractor, Northrup Grumman, the government will own those plans, so in theory, it won’t be captive to a single vendor. Also, the Navy plans to recompete CANES at regular intervals and to require updates to hardware and software every two to three years.
That’s something that doesn’t occur with much predictability on today’s shipboard IT systems, LeGoff said.
“If you look at CANES, it’s doing for the Navy what a corporate CIO does,” he said. “We have to do that because of the information assurance threats and to keep pace with the pace of the capabilities of the things that are being asked to ride on that network. As the applications and systems grow, it’s already outstripped the infrastructure.”
LeGoff said installing CANES on a ship is an intrusive process. The Navy estimates it will take more than four months to put it aboard the Milius. Eight more ships are planned for this fiscal year, and the IT installations will only take place when ships are already in the yard for other major maintenance overhauls.
Navy seeks faster implementation
That’s one reason the Navy expects it to take almost a decade to get CANES fully deployed, but it would like to find a way to move things along faster.
“We’re looking at all options to shrink that required window,” he said. “If we can do the installation in a shorter time, we can do more installs. Right now we’re limited to doing it during these major maintenance periods, and that slows down the possible speed at which we can recapitalize the infrastructure. If we can find a way to shrink the install length, the option is there to finish and reach full operational capability sooner.”
The Navy says competition in the early stages of CANES is what allowed it to beat the Pentagon’s initial cost estimates by more than 40 percent, and Legoff said the trait of competition is something he intends to hold onto. The government owns the data rights to the entire program, and the next competition will tell bidders what the program is and how it’s built.
But the Navy’s not yet ready to talk about how frequent those competitions will be and what the contracts will include.
“There will be follow-on contracts. We can state that categorically, and they will all be full and open competition,” LeGoff said. “We’re still working on the periodicity and the details behind that, but we’re going to release the entire detailed design of the CANES system to industry and ask them to come and bid on how best to produce that system and at best cost. But it will be a build-to-print contract, not a design contract.”
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 8-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.