[By Sally Deboer]
CIMSEC was recently joined by Captain John Watkins, the first commanding officer of the Naval Information Warfighting Development Center (NIWDC). Read on to learn about this new command’s role in shaping the U.S. Navy’s information warfighting skills and capabilities.
SD: We are joined by CAPT John Watkins, the first commanding officer of the newly opened Naval Information Warfighting Development Center. It is truly an honor to have you here. Before we begin, can you share a bit about yourself and your background?
JW: Thanks first and foremost for having me, it’s an honor for me as well. I came into the Navy in 1992 as a Surface Warfare Officer and completed various tours in engineering. I did that for roughly five years and really enjoyed it, but subsequent to those tours I attended the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California where I achieved a Master’s degree in IT Management during which time I laterally transferred into the space and electronic warfare community.
Since being an IP, I’ve had multiple operational and staff tours, to include XO of USS Coronado, serving as N6 and Information Warfare Command on Expeditionary and Carrier Strike Group Staffs, and as the N6 on a Numbered Fleet staff. Staff tours have included time on the OPNAV and SURFACE FORCES staffs. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have had multiple command tours including NAVCOMTELSTA San Diego, Navy Information Operations Command Texas, and now just recently, my assignment here at the Naval Information Warfighting Development Center.
SD: Let’s kick off by introducing our readers to your new command. Initial operating capability for the NIWDC was declared on 27 March 2017. Could you please explain the role of this warfighting development center?
JW: Like the other warfighting development centers (WDC), we are all focused on four primary lines of operation. First, we’re concerned with enhancing advanced level training. As you can imagine, in terms of NIWDC, that entails all of our information-related capabilities. The advanced level training for our units and forces in the fleet occurs at the latter stages of the optimized fleet response plan (OFRP).
The second line of operation is the development of doctrine that allows us to achieve that advanced level of proficiency – doctrine including tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), standard operating procedures (SOPs), higher level Concepts of Operation (CONOPS), or as necessary, revisions to Naval Warfare publications.
The third line of operation is to cultivate and develop a subject matter expertise known throughout all the WDCs as a ‘warfare tactics instructor’ or WTIs. Other WDCs have WTIs in place today, for example, the model that has been around longest is the Naval Aviation WDC, “Top Gun,” associated with advanced tactics for jet fighting, air-to-air combat, etc.
Last but not least, we’ll have an organic assessments capability built into the command which allows us to, in an OODA loop fashion, assess our advanced level training capabilities, our TTPs and SSPs, and our doctrine as we bake it into our training pipeline and processes, ensuring it is delivering optimal IW warfighting effects.
SD: The traditional warfare Type Commanders (Air, Surface, Undersea) have established their own warfare development centers, as you mentioned. Given that IW is a critical enabler of other warfare areas, how do you envision the NIWDC interacting with the other warfare development centers? What key IW concepts and understandings should be incorporated by other communities?
JW: That’s a fantastic question. NIWDC just achieved IOC designation in late March, and the good news is that while we are the last WDC to be stood up, we already have IW community professionals, both enlisted and officer, arrayed across the other WDCs today, totaling about 150 people, who are working Information Warfare expertise into Naval warfighting. Even as we’re building up to this capability, our folks that have been embedded throughout the other WDCs have done a remarkable job laying the groundwork and foundation for us to come to fruition as the NIWDC. This is significant because the information-related capabilities that we bring to bear are so ingrained in all the other mission warfare areas of the Navy that we have to be interlinked with the other WDCs and visa-versa.
SD: There seems to be growing agreement that in future conflict, naval forces will not enjoy undisputed access to the electromagnetic spectrum. How will naval information warfare capabilities enable distributed operations when the spectrum required for C4ISR is being, denied, degraded, disrupted and subject to deception operations?
JW: That’s another great question that we are constantly focused on. We all acknowledge the fact that in modern warfare scenarios, the likelihood that we will have denied or degraded communications is a given. Frankly, it’s almost no longer an assumption—it’s reality. Simply put, we need to be able to retain organic capabilities as much as possible wherever we are, so that if we lose the link back to the beach, we can still function and fight.
To that end, we’ve got to be able to train, operate, and be proficient in fighting in those types of scenarios. We’re all about getting at that advanced level of necessary training here at the NIWDC.
SD: How do you propose addressing the acquisition and fielding of new information technology (cyber/EW/IW) and developing TTPs under the current DOD acquisition system?
JW: Acquisition is an evolving process, and I think acquisition reform surfaces quite frequently anytime we talk about the dynamics of advancing IT. The rate of advancement in technology is astounding, and the acquisition process needs to be agile enough to keep pace.
To your question about the TTPs and SOPs – when we introduce new tech to the fleet, it is important that we have TTPs and SOPs built into them from day one. We’ve got to be able to deliver a product that comes with robust training behind it so that when it’s delivered to the fleet, our sailors can put it into immediate effect. The TTPs and SOPs that accompany that capability need to be solid enough out of the gate so that we achieve immediate success from day one of fielding.
This article has been edited for length and may be found in its original form at CIMSEC.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.