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Cyberdefenses for Littoral Combat Ship Getting Retooled

The U.S. Navy is “taking definitive steps” to improve the cybersecurity of systems that manage operations and logistics on its new Littoral Combat Ship, a service official said.

The Navy’s weapons buyers and commanders “are absolutely taking seriously the need to close any gaps” that “would put us at risk,” Vice Admiral Jan Tighe, commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command said yesterday in an interview. She’s the Navy’s top uniformed cyberdefense official.

A Navy review of the USS Freedom, the first Littoral Combat Ship, “uncovered classified deficiencies” in the vessel’s “capability to protect the security of information,” Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, said in his annual report in January.

Concern about cybersecurity adds to previous questions about what’s now a $23 billion program to build at least 32 ships intended to perform missions in littoral waters, those close to shore. Two versions of the ship are built by Lockheed Martin Corp. based in Bethesda, Maryland and Henderson, Australia-based Austal Ltd.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in February he’ll cut purchases to 32 vessels, instead of the 52 originally planned, until the Navy develops options for a more survivable ship.

“We are taking definitive steps to protect the information systems on board those vessels currently deployed and those that are coming,” Tighe said after a presentation in Arlington, Virginia, at a conference on military communications sponsored by “C4ISR & Networks.” C4ISR is a military acronym for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

Combat Communications

The Littoral Combat Ship’s combat capability depends on communicating with better-armed vessels and shore support through its “Total Ship Computing Environment,” a maritime battle network linked by computers and sensors.

The lightly manned vessel also relies on ship-to-shore and satellite communications to help crews monitor the ship’s condition, perform repairs and order medical supplies. At least 245 functions traditionally performed aboard a Navy ship will be done onshore because of the vessel’s limited crew size.

Congressional auditors in September concluded that the ship lacks the robust communications systems needed to transmit critical data to support facilities ashore.

“There is a whole lot of talent working” to assess “what do they need to do to change, and/or replace” capabilities “to that ship to make sure that it’s not at risk,” Tighe said.

Tighe outlined in her presentation the steps her command was taking, such as inspections to inform seaborne commanders about the potential dangers to their information systems.

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