Towards A Common Operational Picture

The Role of C4ISR in the USCG: Meeting the Challenges for a 21st Century Force

An Interview With Admiral Day

12/09/2010 – Second Line of Defense sat down with Admiral Robert E. Day this fall to have a wide ranging discussion of the challenges of building effective C4ISR for the USCG.  The discussion underscored how important it is for the USCG to have capabilities to network the force, and the challenges of getting folks to understand the importance of investing in the connectors.

Indeed, a way to look at the USCG is that the force puts personnel on target via its ISR systems.  Without effective ISR, the effectiveness of the personnel and resources are undercut.  With C2, the deployed force after getting to the assignment can effectively organize the most appropriate response. The use of efficient C4ISR systems is essential to mission success (e.g. Hatteras rescue earlier this year) . Because C4ISR is less visible than physical assets, it tends to receive less support than it should.  [1]


Rear Admiral Day (Credit: SLD)Rear Admiral Day (Credit: SLD, 2010)


Rear Admiral Robert E. Day Jr. assumed the duties as the Assistant Commandant for Command, Control, Communications, & Information Technology and the Director, Coast Guard Cyber Command, Pre-Commissioning Detachment on July 2010. Rear Admiral Day graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1980. His first tour of duty was in Portland, Maine where he served aboard Cutter Duane as the Damage Control Assistant until April 1982. RDML Day was then assigned to CG Headquarters, Washington D.C. as the Electronics Project Officer for the construction of the 270 foot Medium Endurance Cutters and 110 foot Island Class Patrol Boats.

***


SLD: Could you provide us with an overview of C4ISR works in the USCG?

Admiral Day: Let’s talk about how C4ISR is used in support of Coast Guard missions.  And what changes have occurred—drastic changes—in the last 10 years and the drastic changes that are going to be needed even in the next five. These changes may or may not occur, because they may or may not make the funding threshold.  In most cases right now, they are not going to make the funding threshold.

SLD: C4ISR is essential for a modern Coast Guard to function.  Although ethereal to many, the glue, which holds the platforms together, is clearly C4ISR.  Could you provide a sense of the shift in performance enabled by the new C4ISR systems?

Admiral Day: Let’s talk about just the Eastern Pacific drug mission.  Let’s just use that as an example. In the old days, we literally went down there and bored holes in the water, and if we came across a drug vessel, it was by sheer luck.  It might be on a lookout list, and we might happen to see it.  Let’s fast-forward now to the 2000s and what we’ve started being able to do.  By being able to fuse actionable intelligence, and not only that, but intelligence communicated at light speed.  So now, we’re to the point where we’re telling a Cutter to go point A, pick up smuggler B with load C.  And we’re doing that in real time with delivery of a common operational picture, which has been fused with intelligence.  That was unheard of 10 years ago.

SLD: So you’re contrasting on the one hand the hunt-and-peck method or the stumble across by chance method, versus having enough information to actually target a problem.

Admiral Day: And not only that, taking information from a wide range of intelligence sources and agencies that we can participate with and bringing it in and fusing it. And leveraging all those tools and being able to process that information to figure out anomalies and actually start doing these interdictions.

SLD: Could you contrast your experiences as a young sailor and a sailor doing the mission now?

Admiral Day: Well, it’s a whole different framework.  The framework is shaped by most of the fusion of the information which is being done off the Cutter [2] . The Cutter is merely a delivery mechanism for capability; the Cutter is now the point of the spear.  It has enabled the networks and all the systems back ashore at our Command Centers and our Intelligence Coordination Centers, whether it’d be from Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (JIATF) South or whether it’d be our own [3].  This ability to communicate that to them in real time allows to literally send them a common operational picture: the X is already on your radar screen, and you say go to that target.

This ability to communicate that to them in real time allows to literally send them a common operational picture: the X is already on your radar screen, and you say go to that target.

SLD: So the difference here is that in the first case, you’re just throwing a spear out to the ocean.

Admiral Day: And hope you hit something.

SLD: And where you land, hopefully somebody’s near the spear. So the way you’re thinking is we have this grid over an area, and your platforms are the customers, so to speak, or the enforcers.

Admiral Day: Absolutely.  They’re the operational element that we are producing information for their mission execution.

SLD: The C4ISR systems are essential to changing the calculus of operations as well as enabling the USCG in its joint role as well?

Admiral Day: Yes.  For example, in the eastern Pacific, that’s done in JIATF South, which is an interagency task-force, they’re doing the lay-down based on the information that they’ve got. They’re getting the intelligence feeds as well we’re getting intelligence feed and feeding into it.

SLD: I would imagine that the relative “invisibleness” of C4ISR makes support for the systems, notably in funding a continuing challenge?  After all, you cannot break a bottle over C4ISR like you do a ship.

Admiral Day: The looming budget environment presents significant risks for IT in general.  History demonstrates that when budgets get tight, senior management generally starts cutting IT systems, vice other assets, services and personnel.  But business research will tell you that this strategy is generally flawed in exactly the wrong approach to take.  Because many of the systems that are fielded are being developed to provide exactly the efficiencies and the effectiveness sought in the incremental budget environment.

And in no time more so than now, IT provides greater efficiency and effectiveness, whether it be communications amongst varied partners such as you can get, and aggregate response versus stovepipe responses, you get better collaboration and coordination when these systems can talk together. Additionally, you can have that ability to flow information back and forth across lots of boundaries. But killing or significantly reducing an important IT program that is about to be launched negates the prior investment and incurs significant restart expenses.

In no time more so than now, IT provides greater efficiency and effectiveness, whether it be communications amongst varied partners such as you can get, and aggregate response versus stovepipe responses, you get better collaboration and coordination when these systems can talk together. Additionally, you can have that ability to flow information back and forth across lots of boundaries. But killing or significantly reducing an important IT program that is about to be launched negates the prior investment and incurs significant restart expenses.

SLD: I would assume that there is a challenge of meshing the Department of Homeland Security IT reforms with those of the USCG as well.

Admiral Day: Increasing demands for accountability, transparency, standardization, and centralization will require significant investments and/or requirements reductions in Coast Guard IT systems. Let me explain this.  Over the last decade, there has been increasing IT regulatory requirements and mandatory program oversight and reporting to our overseers, Congress, OMB and GAO. DOD and DHS have significantly expanded the effort required from Coast Guard personnel and IT systems to produce even the most basic information being mandated.

The Coast Guard will be under continuous scrutiny, and in some cases budgetary mandate to collapse existing Coast Guard IT systems into DHS and sometimes—and in some cases, government-wide IT systems.

The objective of the initiatives to form DHS systems and services is clearly and understandably to shape an IT system that can serve a majority of the needs for all DHS components.  By so doing, it is possible to collapse legacy component systems to achieve standardization and cost savings.  The scope of the DHS initiatives is broad. Where possible such commonalities certainly are important and make sense.

The objective of the initiatives to form DHS systems and services is clearly and understandably to shape an IT system that can serve a majority of the needs for all DHS components.  By so doing, it is possible to collapse legacy component systems to achieve standardization and cost savings.  The scope of the DHS initiatives is broad. Where possible such commonalities certainly are important and make sense.

SLD: But I would imagine that the unique USCG mission set requires international partnerships and military relationships and hence IT and C4ISR systems different from much of DHS.  How will this be handled?

Admiral Day: The challenge for the USCG is performing its unique mission set mandated by the Congress. And the question is whether commonality will fit all in order to perform our mission sets.

For example, the DHS system may not be able to handle our personnel competencies.  We’re military; we have different competencies than a majority of the rest of DHS.  We are not solely a law enforcement agency.  But again, we’re military, and so are our competencies and a lot of our systems that we need to be able to do to track military personnel.

SLD: And what about interoperability requirements for working with joint team members not within DHS?

Admiral Day: Let’s talk about the interagency operations center.  We know that particularly in a port, let’s look at LA/LB or some of these—Jacksonville, these other locations where we’re dealing with the Navy, other federal partners, local partners and state partners all in that port to do port operations.

And to work with these folks we need common IT systems.  We start using scheduling such that CBP and the Coast Guard are all scheduling off of the same exact system.

In the old days, the agencies would go on board ships for inspections sequentially. The Coast Guard would go aboard, they’d do their inspections and ICE would come aboard and they’d do their inspections, and then CBP would come aboard.  And so they’d tie the boat up for four to six hours with just these three different visits.

Now they all go aboard together and they all execute the mission at the same time.  They saved that boat probably two, maybe three hours.  And to them, that probably equates to a quarter million dollars, because the longer they keep that boat tied up at that port, means they’re not hauling Sonys and stuff to the United States.  And so, they’re very happy about it.  And they don’t mind the fact that we come onboard.

In the old days, the agencies would go onboard ships for inspections sequentially. The Coast Guard would go aboard, they’d do their inspections and ICE would come aboard and they’d do their inspections, and then CBP would come aboard.  And so they’d tie the boat up for four to six hours with just these three different visits. Now they all go aboard together and they all execute the mission at the same time.  They saved that boat probably two, maybe three hours.  And to them, that probably equates to a quarter million dollars (…) [so] they don’t mind the fact that we come onboard.

But it takes the IT systems for these guys to sit down jointly to decide which ships they’re going to target, which ones are going to go aboard, who’s going to do it. With these scheduling systems and with the ability to see across each other’s systems and to shape commonality, we can work together to execute a simultaneous inspection.  This all fits into a port interagency operations center, and some of the systems that we’re trying to build, so that that we can share data.

SLD: So joint decision-making is crucial in the port enabled by IT systems that work for the civil, law enforcement and military authorities?

Admiral Day: That’s exactly right.  But it is not just IT systems; it is building an effective process that uses the IT systems. My IT system is not going to be effective, it doesn’t matter what system I develop, it’s not going to be effective unless you change your processes.  Or refine your processes.  And this is the piece that does not show up easily in flow charts or funding efforts.


USCG Command, Control and Communications Engineering Center (Credit: )C3CEN: USCG Command, Control and Communications Engineering Center (Credit: USCG)


SLD: So support for decision-making tools and decision-making processes is essential to C4ISR success?

Admiral Day: For example, the USCG is building such a system at Portsmouth called Watchkeeper [4].  This is a scheduling interface, but this is essentially a decision making tool, and a situational awareness tool particularly for the sector level. (Note: Sectors are geographical areas of responsibilities for execution of Coast Guard missions.)   But the funding for this program is on life support. But this is the exact tool that we need. What we’re doing is building an entire architecture, so Watchkeeper is the level that’s going to be at the sector command center level.

C3CEN is CG center of excellence for these systems; they fuse in a whole bunch of other capabilities.  They fuse in NAIS (National Automatic Identification System). They do radars, etc. So, they are the sensor people as well, so they’ve got the fusion–they build the fusion system for the sensors that they’re placing out there.  They’re also DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System).

C3CEN is CG center of excellence for these systems; they fuse in a whole bunch of other capabilities.  They fuse in NAIS (National Automatic Identification System). They do radars, etc. So, they are the sensor people as well, so they’ve got the fusion–they build the fusion system for the sensors that they’re placing out there.  They’re also DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System).

So, it’s a family of systems and this is where we’re trying to move to, even in the deepwater environment, because now we got the pallets aboard the MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft); we got the systems aboard the C-130Js.  And I’m not going to ever use that term of systems of systems.  But we’re building this architecture so that they all plug into a common enterprise bus.



COTHEN


SLD: Could you give us a sense of how commonality with some of the DHS elements is being enhanced?

Admiral Day: I do a lot with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).  Right now, most of my HF communications, which primarily service my aircraft, particularly helicopters, C-130s, and sectors to a certain extent is done using the customs over the horizon enforcement network, COTHEN. Because I have a significant HF infrastructure, and they have a lot as well, why not organize differently?

If we link our stuff together, in other words, I use some of my HF transmitters, and they use some of theirs, we now have a global grid that we can use versus us with our little patchwork pieces everywhere.  So now, some of my high frequency radio communications are being done on in cooperation with CBP to the point where is it’s all run out of one operations center down in Florida that there is Coast Guard watch standers sitting in CBP facility doing this joint piece for HF radio networks.

There’s even more that could be said if the investments were done right that we could leverage Rescue 21 (Note: Rescue-21 is a coastal distress and safety system that also supports Coast Guard C4ISR.) for some of these capabilities.

SLD: And what is the impact on leveraging commercial systems to solve some of the C4ISR problems?

Admiral Day: Let me just talk about Haiti. What did they do?  They took and they put up a 3 G cell site, and they handed everybody out cell phones and they leveraged the heck out of them.  And not only that, they leveraged things like text; they leveraged video back and forth across them.  And it came down to a common standard that everybody knew how to use, because they all know how to use a dial tone, there is no training necessary.

And it even gets to the point of tactical communications when I move out. If I turn up a 3G cell site on my cutter, on my national security cutter, and I’ve got 3G communications capability or 4G by then, it’s a small handheld device that I can hand to any 18-year-old, and they know automatically how to handle it.

Not only that, they’d hold it right here and they turn the video on, and now I got a live video feed from my boarding team.  And if I want to, I can encrypt it such that they can’t, you know, I’ll just go ahead and put AES encryption into it, because I’m running my own private cell company.  Or if I want to, I can open it up to somebody else saying what’s your mobile number?  Okay.  You’re a part of my team.

And it’s going to get boiled down to something like that.  Same thing at Deepwater Horizon, because nobody has the same radio systems: BP had a private radio system, all the counties had private radio systems, the parishes had private radio systems; it’s no different than the fire department , which can’t talk to the ambulances, which can’t talk to the police department.  They all go back to the least common denominator that they know.  They bring out cell phones.

SLD: You mentioned earlier that you’re using your 3G private—4G network, but you’re creating all these private cell phone company: does that mean that you are essentially leveraging the network?

Admiral Day: I’m just leveraging the network.  We did it in New York during 9/11, because we had lost it when the second tower went down—when the south tower went down, we lost everything.  We were blind, because all of our telecommunication circuits were in that south tower.  So that means the VTS lost all of their radar signals, they lost all the VHF communications, we were deaf, dumb and blind, because not only that, we lost our telephones.

SLD: But what do you mean by the phrase, you created your own cell phone network?

Admiral Day: What I’m saying is, is that at a moment’s notice I can turn up my own infrastructure that replicates commercial, off the shelf, no different than a Sprint or an AT&T.  But for my contingency or even my day-to-day operations, I can run a network that I can control, I can let in who I want in, but also interfaces cleanly with the public.

SLD: So as long as you have some spectrum, and your cell phones wirelessly linked to your network, you can do it. And your point is that no one needs training for that?

Admiral Day: Indeed, they know how to use the device.  I haven’t seen a contingency response yet that one could say one radio system satisfied anything.

SLD: But you lose that capability when you go well offshore.  In most places, you don’t have affordable connectivity. Worldwide commercial satellite systems are expensive and not subsidized by millions of users.

Admiral Day: That is definitely true when we have an intense operation well offshore. Two things are helping here; many intense incidents are in the coastal regions where there is relatively good connectivity. Satellite systems are becoming more available although many are expensive. Again, the commercial world with cruise ships and other vessels needing lots of bandwidth are causing the market place to respond with dramatically increased capability.

One example was the Deepwater Horizon response. Because a morale issue aboard the rigs was that when they’re out there for four weeks, they couldn’t call home.  So they worked with the cell phone companies, and the cell phone companies said hey, I’ll put a cell site out there for you.  And by the way, all those shrimpers and all the fishermen who were within 50 miles of there, I’m going to get them too.  So they had a profit motive for doing so. We were able to tap into this commercially provided capability. Similar programs are happening in the more offshore areas. Again, this re-emphasizes the critical role our Coast Guard plays internationally with organizations such as the International Maritime Organization. They create regulations for international shipping for use of radio communications and electronic systems in general for maritime safety, security and environmental protection. These programs lay the foundations for interoperability and enable commercial vessels to communicate among themselves and us. Absent some organization to enable all this, we would have towers of babble, especially in emergencies.

And let me just give you one of the problem sets that Deepwater Horizon presented.  We flew almost 2,000 people in there very quickly.  And one of the things that we learned from Katrina that a major problem was keeping track of everybody was a very difficult thing.  And we ended up with people who were down there for two months, and where have you been?  What were you doing?  And they came to me and said we got to do a better job of tracking personnel.

Well I said well give them a cell phone, give them one with GPS on it, keep track of their cell phone number and literally using Google Earth and the capabilities that are available, we know where everybody is. I can track personnel down to about 10 meters if it’s enabled.  I said just give them the phones, turn it on, we’ll use the commercially available services and we’ll track the sons of a gun.

SLD: To wrap up, how would summarize the contribution of C4ISR to USCG missions and capabilities?

Admiral Day: The American people’s investment in our new capital platforms that they are graciously delivering to us will be sub-optimized if we cannot do the rest of the systems piece and link all this stuff together. With the new C4ISR systems, I can fuse the data. And such capabilities are the lynchpin that enhances the mission execution from a limited set of platforms, and improves their efficiency and their effectiveness to get the job done. That’s why investment in systems such as Watchkeeper, Coastwatch or the sensor systems which are going to go aboard the cutters, and the pallets aboard the CASAs and the 130Js, are crucial.  With such tools, we can shape more effective decision-making and leverage our always limited numbers of platforms.

With the new C4ISR systems, I can fuse the data. And such capabilities are the lynchpin that enhances the mission execution from a limited set of platforms, and improves their efficiency and their effectiveness to get the job done. That’s why investment in systems such as Watchkeeper, Coastwatch or the sensor systems which are going to go aboard the cutters, and the pallets aboard the CASAs and the 130Js, are crucial.  With such tools, we can shape more effective decision-making and leverage our always limited numbers of platforms.


***


Related SLD articles and external links:

[1] Related articles on this site include our initial assessment and then the follow up interview at the Elizabeth City Air Station : we can let our readers know that the team we interviewed has recently been honored at the annual USCG Foundation dinner.  We might also note that in giving them the award no mention of the new tools was made, which only reinforces the problem of getting the recognition needed and resource funding for this important glue, which holds together the performance of the force.  We would note that these are the views of Second Line of Defense and are not attributable to our distinguished interviewee.  Also, see our analysis of the contribution of connectivity for the USCG.

[2] See our article on the role of the new cutter

[3] See JFQ Forum on the JIATF

[4] See a full PDF report on the USCG Command, Control and Communications Engineering Center.

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

©2016 sldInfo. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions.