The U.S. Navy is aiming to build a more agile and innovative force that can leverage information anytime and anywhere by modernizing and better defending their IT systems, several senior Navy IT officials and officers said at a March 8 virtual event organized by GovExec.

Navy Department CIO Aaron Weis explained that prior to the service branch’s ongoing modernization efforts, the Navy maintained several legacy IT systems in a complex architecture. That situation, he said, affected “the department’s ability to transform operations and remain agile in responding to and gaining a competitive edge over our adversaries.”

The legacy systems created isolated data silos, increasing the department’s cyber-attack surface and creating unnecessary operational risks and potential material weaknesses, the CIO said. The department was also spending billions of dollars sustaining these systems and applications, thus reducing resourcing options to drive digital modernization.

“We introduced Operation Cattle Drive to accelerate our modernization efforts,” Weis said. That effort involves “aggressively discontinuing unneeded, obsolete, unproductive, insecure, and un-auditable legacy IT systems and applications,” he explained.

Operation Cattle Drive was initiated at the end of 2020 to accelerate and modernize the Navy’s IT systems and applications, and to drop ineffective and expensive legacy systems. The Navy began eliminating funding and resourcing, decertified targeted systems, and completely removed them from the network.

Another key focus in the Navy’s modernization effort is to increase cyber situational awareness to better protect systems. That effort requires a mind-set shift from compliance to readiness, Weis added.

“Cybersecurity is not a compliance issue, it is a readiness issue,” he said. “To protect and defend our systems we need to move away from patchworks to comply with cyber standards, and focus on training to be prepared for possible breaches,” Weis said.

Chris Cleary, Principal Cyber Advisor for the Navy, agreed with Weis’ assessment on cyber readiness, and on advancing that goal through Operation Cattle Drive.

“By dropping legacy systems, we are reducing our attack surface and in return better protecting our enterprise,” he said.

The Navy is also employing continuous active monitoring across the enterprise to increase cyber situational awareness, and to institute a security culture where a personal commitment to cybersecurity is required to gain access to the network, Cleary said.

“But while we continue to make progress on all things cyber, including adopting a zero trust architecture, I remind myself that cybersecurity is never something that we will beat, it is something that as an enterprise and as a nation we need to mitigate. Readiness and training will ensure we do,” said Cleary.

Vice Admiral Jeffrey Trussler, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare N2/N6 at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Director of Naval Intelligence, talked about how the Navy’s modernization effort is crucial to Project Overmatch.

Project Overmatch is a high-priority initiative focused on ensuring that operationally relevant data is available at the tactical edge, when and where required. The modernization and development of networks and systems are critical in supporting operational and developmental environments to sustain maritime dominance, he said.

“We leverage the latest in digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and information and networking technologies for improved fleet readiness worldwide,” Adm. Trussler said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.