The Drift

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ALEXANDRIA – Good Afternoon, Drifters

Like most kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I had a healthy dose of videogame exposure. I have clear memories of my brothers playing Atari when we lived in Scotland. We had a Nintento when we moved to the states, and I played 1942 like it was my job. I remember being jealous of my friends who had Sega because they had Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter.

Then we got Super Nintendo the year I broke my leg and I wore the 1s and 0s of Donkey Kong, Mortal Kombat and Legend of Zelda. Then ZOMG when Nintendo 64 came out – Goldeneye for days. Goldeneye in the morning, Goldeneye at night. Goldeneye all day. Maybe that sounds like a wasted childhood. It wasn’t, it was awesome and I’d do it all the same if I had to choose. Except I’d try not to break my leg.

Well that brings me to the news of this week. See I like to occasionally revisit my old videogame haunts but those old systems just don’t work like they used to. And the solution to that problem is the subject of today’s drift.

(I’m very sorry for the delay. This usually comes out on Thursday. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in preparation for SeaAirSpace this year!)


David B.

So, here’s where I was going with today’s introduction. There are a number of issues with playing videogames from, say, an NES on today’s equipment. Getting your old NES machine to run is one problem: It’s not always easy and if its broken, finding the right parts and someone who knows how to fix those old things can be an issue. If it does work, it might be hard to play it on your current TV – if all you have is an HDMI cable input, you can’t hook up the old AV cables. You’d have to find an adapter.

And then there is the issue of screen resolution. Your TV may not have a resolution setting programmed in that can support playing those old games.

The point I’m making is that today’s equipment just isn’t set up to play your Nintendo. But fear not: Nerds have solved your problem. I’m not a computer scientist, so bear with the layman’s terms but your best bet for playing your old NES games (if you didn’t go out and buy the NES Classic machine they released last year that solved all these problems for you) is playing on your desktop. Now playing 8-bit videogames on a 32-or-64-bit Windows 10 machine isn’t easy and requires the use of an emulator. Basically, what we’re talking about here is a program that mimics a much older system and will even automatically adjust your screen resolution for you so you don’t lose any visual quality.

You’re basically running the old code on a new machine, and it’s a lot of fun. So, go check it out and download 1942 while you’re at it – go shoot down some Zeros. It’s a blast.

Now what does any of this have to do with the Navy? Good question. I told you that story to tell you this one: Last month the destroyer Thomas Hudner used what’s called a “virtual twin” to fire a missile. That’s a HUGE deal and let me tell you why: Because a lot of the Navy’s combatants are still running versions of Aegis that are about as powerful as your Nintendo 64. The computer guts of a lot of ships are still the UYK-43, a comically large 32-bit computer that takes up a lot of space, power and cooling compared to your 64-bit Nintendo machine that ran Goldeneye all day and all night with a couple of tiny fans.

Now it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison but here’s the point, the Navy has developed a version of Aegis that works essentially like an emulator. It can simulate, or “virtualize” the older code on much newer systems. How new? Well instead of having to cut holes in the ship and install new blade servers, consoles and displays, the Navy can pack the virtual twin up in rugged cases and carry them into computer central and, according to a recent release, when you stack it up it could fit under your dining room table. (By the way, whoever at NAVSEA came up with that image for the press release should get a promotion.)

But what does this mean? Well it means that the virtual twin can run all of a DDG’s systems and radars through the twin, but it can also get the benefit of all the new upgrades without spending hundreds of millions of dollars and a year pierside to install it. Theoretically you could upgrade any ship in the fleet to the latest Aegis baseline in a few days. Or you could rip out the old equipment and use the saved space, weight, power and cooling for laser beams or high-powered microwaves or just installing a larger TV in the chief’s mess: Whatever you want.

But here’s where things get even better: The Navy with Lockheed has developed what’s called the Common Source Library. Now the CSL is basically the operating system on your iPhone. And think of the systems and missiles and guns on your ships as running off apps – they are, they’re all basically running off software applications but the apps are developed differently for each combat system based on the source code. Now what the Navy wants CSL to be is the operating system that runs all the ships in the fleet. That doesn’t mean that they’ll all be Aegis necessarily, but that whatever suite of systems you have will run off CSL source code. No more of: this ship is an android, this is an iPhone and we have to develop separate apps for all of them.

So, for example, once the Navy’s new over-the-horizon missile, the Naval Strike Missile, is programmed into the CSL, everyone who’s running CSL could install the launchers and download the NSM application from the source library and: voila! You got NSM. No interminable integration period, no having CIC crawling with tech reps for weeks on end, just download that shit and go sink some Type 052Ds (A JOKE!). It’s also great for security updates and patches and the like: update the source code, everyone downloads it, everyone is off the races.

That’s the dream, anyway. Now once you integrate the virtual twins with the CSL, every ship in the fleet is rapidly upgradeable, new systems can be integrated more quickly and more effectively, and ultimately everyone is more cyber-secure because, while everyone would theoretically have the same vulnerabilities, you can also patch the system for everyone all at once, rather than having to play a constant game of hide-and-go-seeks over a trillion different systems spread out throughout the fleet.

So that’s why what happened on Hudner is a big deal.

Now let’s get to the Hotwash.

The Hotwash

Some interesting news over at USNI about the supplier base. DoD is talking about direct cash infusions to critical suppliers further down the supply chain. It’s kind of buried at the end of the story, but it’s intriguing. Especially when you consider supply issues that are already rearing their ugly head over at the Columbia program. (Read more about that issue here.)

Excerpt: Most of DoD’s work happens with prime contractors, who are responsible for understanding the vendor base that underlies their programs.

“Often these companies might not have a problem with their first-level suppliers, but about six levels down in the supply chain they do have a problem. So what we help to do is shine a light on that. Okay, you’ve identified a problem, now what do you do about the problem? We are pointing to authorities we have … different pots of money we have where we can shore up some of these areas,” she said.

“We also – and I think this is really the most innovative thing we’re going to do … we are creating a Trusted Capital Marketplace where we have a list of companies from a whole series of different industry segments that need capital infusion, and the actual business case analysis is such that it doesn’t attract a lot of typical investors,” Lord said.

“But we’re very fortunate that we have a lot of patriotic venture capitalists in this world, a lot of families with funds that they want to invest, and they’re interested in understanding where they can invest in our nation’s industrial base to make a difference towards our safety and security. So we are creating a marketplace to bring these two groups together to help with that.”

Lord said that the marketplace would roll out in the next three or four weeks, and she said that data analysis underpins the companies that the Pentagon will highlight as those in need of a cash infusion to help ensure the health of the industrial base and the stability of important acquisition programs.

Check out the whole story here: New Pentagon Initiatives Address Cybersecurity Challenges, Industrial Base Fragility

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David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.