Nothing proprietary in Navy CANES contract

The Navy's Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Service project to upgrade shipboard communications is off to a brisk start following an initial contract award in February.

The Navy’s plans to upgrade its shipboard communications are moving forward quickly. In February, Northrop Grumman won a $36.6 million contract that could expand to $637.8 million over two years if all the options are implemented.

The award, part of the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) program, will begin with destroyers and amphibious assault ships, expanding to most Navy surface ships and submarines over time. CANES, managed by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, seeks to streamline operations and reduce overall costs by using standardized technologies. Standardized networks are already replacing a range of legacy architectures that have grown up over time.

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“We’re retiring four networks each time we install a CANES network. There’s no way we can continue to manage with bits and pieces from all kinds of companies scattered on our ships. Right now, we don’t know what infrastructure we have on any ship,” said CAPT Didier LeGoff, program manager of the Tactical Networks Program Office for the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications Computers and Intelligence in San Diego, Calif.

The Navy plans to replace an array of different technologies with equipment built entirely with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products. As budgets decline, that’s the only way the Navy can continue to operate and upgrade its communications systems, LeGoff said.

“That’s how we’ll keep costs down. COTS lets us complete, compete and compete again,” he said. “The best way to get kicked out of this program is to give us something proprietary.”

There will be plenty of opportunities to get kicked out. The Navy plans to allow vendors to compete on upgrades every four years.

The modernization effort involves software along with hardware. It will use hardware and software components that are known to work together to make it much easier to update software and hardware over time. That’s especially important when software patches and upgrades are being installed.

“Getting applications to work on networks and play together is what keeps me awake at night,” LeGoff said. “Going forward, every application will have to go through testing before it goes on a ship. We have a technical and execution arm that will tell us what’s been authorized. We’ll ensure that all the authorized programs play together well.”

Much of the software is based on a common operating system that includes Microsoft’s Windows 7, which is being deployed on ships as part of the Common PC Operating System Environment program. LeGoff said the rapid deployment of Windows 7 on ships, which began little more than a year after the operating system began shipping, is a groundbreaking step.

“We’ve broken the paradigm of lagging industry by several years. We’ve already implemented Windows 7 on ships, it’s running on over 300 platforms. Many said we couldn’t get it on that many ships that quickly, but it’s a fact that we implemented a new operating system very quickly,” LeGoff said.

Although adopting commercially available software is a central part of the overall effort to modernize shipboard networks, the Navy’s definition of COTS isn’t limited to corporate products. Open-source technologies such as Linux may be considered for some applications packages.

“I like open source; I don’t have to pay for it,” LeGoff said.