Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffery Barton works in the combat information center aboard the USS Carney during a composite training unit exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, June 30, 2023.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffery Barton works in the combat information center aboard the USS Carney during a composite training unit exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, June 30, 2023. U.S. Navy / Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Lau

The Navy wants to make info-warfare training ubiquitous

The plan is to open three new training centers and integrate nearly two dozen systems into the live, virtual, constructive training environment.

SAN DIEGO—The Navy knows information warfare runs through every warfighting domain. But it’s not yet an integral part of training. U.S. Naval Information Forces, or NAVIFOR, have been trying to change that in recent years—with a payoff expected as early as 2025.  

The Navy uses a combined training environment called LVC, which stands for live, virtual, and constructive. But integrating myriad information warfare systems—which are often classified—into a single training environment isn’t simple. 

“IW underpins every single warfare area in the Navy. And so there's a number of capabilities that do that across the three pillars of information warfare—battlespace awareness, assured command and control, and then integrated fires,” Elizabeth Nashold, NAVIFOR’s deputy commander, said during the WEST 2024 conference. “All of the disciplines that support that, those are the capabilities we're trying to bring in.” 

That includes cyber, communications and networks, cryptology, intelligence, electronic warfare, naval meteorology, and oceanography, she said. But the sensitivity of these systems makes it difficult to put them in a more open training environment where sailors can learn the ins and outs before encountering them on a mission. 

“Based on the information warfare capabilities that we bring, there is a lot that we actually can't reveal in a training environment. And so, we don't have the opportunity in information warfare to practice those capabilities,” Nashold said. “We don't want to reveal our capabilities. But we also don't want to be implementing those capabilities for the first time when we really need them.”

Those capabilities are often systems delivered to the fleet, and a sailor—without information-warfare-integrated LVC training—“has to figure out how to both operate it, and maintain it, and become proficient on it,” Nashold said. “That's where we want to make sure that we can have the training tools available to do all those things.”

There’s also the challenge of having the right permissions to operate in certain parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, where electronic systems like phones and radios can talk to one another on certain wavelengths. 

“We actually may not have the authorities, the electromagnetic spectrum authorities, that we need to actually operate and train to become proficient in those capabilities,” Nashold said.

By that, Nashold told reporters, she means “our ability to operate in the spectrum along with everything else that operates in the spectrum. Sometimes with capabilities that we need to bring, we just don't have those authorities to do, so we can't practice in the U.S. or along the shores of the U.S.”

Working the problem, fast-tracking the solution

The Navy has made it clear with its recent strategy that future battles will be won by mastering cyber and information warfare throughout the service. 

“We are not at our best in the training we're providing for our information warriors,” NAVIFOR’s boss, Vice Adm. Kelly Aeschbach, said last year. “We have a lot of good stuff in place, but we do not move fast enough, nearly fast enough, to pace with all the capability we're delivering. Our brick and mortar construct has a lot of trouble keeping up with the agility with which industry and others now are delivering fantastic capabilities.”

To fix that, the Navy is planning to open three new information warfare LVC team training centers, in San Diego, Norfolk, Va. and Yokosuka, Japan. Design for the first two is underway now, with construction anticipated for next year, Nashold said. A build for Yokosuka should follow in 2026.

“We actually have 20 systems or programs of record that we have planned to go into IW and LVC,” Nashold said. “What we're really looking to do is, once we get into the environment, our IW sailors can run all of our IW capabilities concurrently. And they can actually innovate and iterate and practice over and over again, and really see what we can bring to the fight and become proficient in those capabilities.” 

Integrating information warfare with the live, virtual, and constructive training environment would also make it easier to track an individual’s or team’s performance, while improving overall tactics, techniques, and procedures. 

“So we're really looking forward to that,” Nashold said. “We're working with [Naval Information Systems Warfare Command] to bring IW into LVC, and we're looking for some of the initial capabilities to happen next year.”

It can sometimes take years for a new IW capability and the training that goes with it to get to the fleet. But as the Navy works on its contribution to the Pentagon’s unified command and control effort, called Project Overmatch, the goal is to move faster. 

“With Overmatch, we're looking at a speed to capability delivery to the fleet. And so if you're talking about capability to the fleet faster then the training has to be faster too,” Nashold said. “It's very important for us to have point-of-presence training: where can we have training delivered to where the sailors are, where can we have virtual training environments, where can we have the representation of the equipment—maybe in the cloud—for our operators to use and become proficient on. That's where we need to go is making that cycle faster.”

Boosting cyber capabilities is also a priority, Nashold said. 

“We're working to get all of our Cyber Mission Force teams manned to 90 percent,” she said.  “Two years ago…we were sending our sailors to the Cyber Mission Force teams, and they weren't trained. They would go to the teams and then they would go get training. And so the readiness of the team suffered because they weren't qualified.” 

The plan is to get training to cyber operators sooner for offensive and defensive teams so sailors arrive ready when they get their assignments. Additionally, the Navy has developed “deployable mission support kits that have been modernized and delivered to all of our teams,” Nashold said. 

The Navy created new cyber job classifications last year, including maritime cyber warfare officers to bolster cyber operations forces. The goal is to have about 300 officers who focus on offensive and defensive cyberspace operations. By the end of 2023, about 115 selectees were laterally transferred to be MCWOs with 18 new accessions. Nashold said the plan is to add more transfers in upcoming cycles.