Rear Adm. Tracy Hines is the Director, Enterprise Networks and Cybersecurity, for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare (OPNAV N2N6). She received her commission through the Limited Duty Officer Program in 1996 and graduated from American InterContinental University with a degree in business management in 2004, and laterally transferred into the Information Warfare community in 2007. Rear Adm. Hines received a master’s degree in information technology cyber forensics from Trident University in 2009.

Over the course of her career, Rear Adm. Hines has held many positions both afloat and ashore, including serving as commanding officer for Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station San Diego from January 2014 to March 2016. More recently, she served as commanding officer of Hopper Information Services in Suitland, Maryland, and she just finished up an assignment as the executive assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations before assuming her current position.

CHIPS spoke with Rear Adm. Hines during a phone interview in early October.

CHIPS: In July, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday released Navigation Plan 2022, which calls for the Navy to “build, maintain, train and equip a combat-credible, dominant naval force to keep the sea lanes open and free, deter conflict, and when called upon, decisively win our nation’s wars.” The plan is heavily focused on the security environment. From a cybersecurity perspective, what needs to happen to ensure that the battlespace remains protected?

Rear Adm. Hines: First and foremost, we need to make sure that our networks are resilient, reliable and capable to support the warfighter. In addition, we need to make sure that our Sailors and our civilians are cognizant of the cyber threat and trained to recognize and respond appropriately because most cyber intrusions start with benign activity like clicking on a suspicious link or plugging your phone into the wrong piece of equipment. From the system perspective, we have to maintain our hygiene and security posture by enforcing patches, updates, network configurations and monitoring. I will say for the long term, we have to continue migrating toward a zero trust environment, in which we are making some progress. If you go all the way back to FRAGO [Fragmentary Order] 01/2019, the CNO charged the Navy to make cybersecurity part of our DNA. That means we must integrate cybersecurity into our culture, collaborating across the services and other government entities to harden our defenses and protect our data to maintain our clear military advantage. I will tell you that, according to the GAO, the defense industrial base does not yet have a validated and comprehensive strategy to mitigate risks. These are the contractors that develop and manufacture the technologies and weapon systems for our Navy. We, as a service, need to develop performance measures to monitor the effectiveness of our industrial base and mitigation efforts against modern and persistent cybersecurity risks.

CHIPS: What part does OPNAV N2N6 play in carrying out the CNO’s Navigation Plan?

Rear Adm. Hines: We play a big part in this, especially when you talk about distributed operations. We provide the concept and capabilities that enable distributed operations. Digital transformation is a force enabler and we leverage that transformation throughout many platforms across the strike groups. And that is a key priority for N2N6. We have to get this right. We have to get the right info to the right decision makers to and from anywhere on the entire globe. We provide key support to the NAVPLAN everywhere from our Flank Speed transformation, cloud transitions, and situational awareness tools, to our command and control capabilities. We are on every facet of the fight. In fact, I was talking to leadership yesterday and one of the things that was articulated is that we are in the kill chain – it starts with us. From of the left of the kill chain, to the middle of the kill chain, to the right of the kill chain. What we do is relevant in manifesting the Navigation Plan. For future multi-domain operations, we are heavily involved in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which play critical roles in helping us decipher data, determine its operational relevance, and providing informed options for decision making jointly across all strands and the military. So like I said, we play a large part in the delivery of these capabilities across the entire Navy. It is certainly a priority for us.

CHIPS: The Navigation Plan points to the Navy’s workforce, in particular, Sailors, as its “asymmetric advantage.” How can the Navy ensure that Sailors are properly equipped to support the six Force Design Imperatives: Distance, Deception, Defense, Distribution, Delivery and Decision Advantage?

Rear Adm. Hines: Training is always the first response to questions like these, and it will always be one of the most important things to ensure readiness at the deck plate. But we also have to look at how much workload we’re putting on the Sailors, and the level of complexity of the system that we’re building. I participated in an Advanced Naval Technology Exercise [ANTX] in Charleston, and one of the things that I really appreciated was there were actual Sailors participating. Industry was going through and presenting a lot of tools and things to help us show visibility into the network, but they had Sailors from NCDOC [Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command] at all levels – I saw E-3s, E-5s, E-6s – those that actually use the network were actually involved in helping them, giving them feedback such as “this tool is a bit complex” or “no, this will work.” I think that is a good step in the right direction. Anything that we can do to automate tasks and simplify the user interface will let our Sailors focus on training and proficiency.

We also have to be mindful that we have a generation of Sailors that grew up in the digital world, so keeping them connected whenever we can will help morale and readiness. We do have several efforts afoot that we are piloting to provide extra connectivity so that in a disconnected, denied or limited environment, we can still be able to function. And we have to make automation a little simpler, too, and user friendly.

CHIPS: Can you discuss the part that the Get Real, Get Better initiative plays in carrying out the actions of the Navigation Plan?

Rear Adm. Hines: Get Real, Get Better is being embraced across the fleet, and we cannot deliver the CNO’s priorities unless we acknowledge where the hard spots are, and we have an honest discussion on how to get after them. I hold a monthly town hall, and it’s primarily focused on Flank Speed. When we first started the town hall, it was because there were a lot of issues that we had. We rolled it out really fast. We say we’re in the cloud, we’re embracing it, and we had a lot of issues. So we took the time to get real, own and listen to the feedback, and then we figured out from that feedback what we needed to do to get better. We took the feedback and said, “Hey, we rolled this out too quickly, there were a lot of issues.” And now, in the “get better” instance of this, we’re looking in the rearview mirror and going, “Wow, there are actually a lot of things that we have accomplished since we started.” About a month ago, I actually held the latest town hall meeting, and in this particular meeting, we had over 2,000 people participate. I had about 150 questions and some suggestions that came up in chat. And when we first started out there was a lot of, “Oh, why can’t we have this, this doesn’t work and I have an issue with this and an issue with that,” but now it was more of “Wow, now that I see the capability, how can we even take this to the next level. What about the AI part of this? What about facial recognition?” There ended up being a lot of feedback concerning what additional capabilities Flank Speed will bring to improve the user functionality. So this feedback informed me that we are getting better, and people are embracing the tool and excited about other opportunities it will bring to improve the user computing experience.

In everything that we do, and everything that we look at, and all of our challenges, be it from getting off the excepted networks, moving from TDM [time-division multiplexing] to IP [Internet Protocol], first and foremost, we understand that yes, there’s an issue; there’s a challenge. We need to listen to the feedback, embrace it, and then figure out a methodical approach to get better. That’s exactly what I think the CNO is stating. Not just a lot of talk, but “Hey, show them metrics on how we move things forward.” That’s why I use those venues, – the town hall, and also a survey for my CIO [Chief Information Officer] Council, where we ask the question on the effectiveness of the Town Hall and the ECH II CIO meetings to determine how effective the meetings are. When I meet with all the Echelon II CIOs, I ask if the venue is appropriate, does the time work? This is about getting real, because I get feedback directly from them. Based on that feedback, we made some changes. We are definitely embracing this, and know how important it is across the fleet, to make sure we are delivering to the warfighter.

CHIPS: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on “Get Real, Get Better.” It really brings it down to a personal level.

Rear Adm. Hines: It is a matter of listening; what did they actually say? We actually clear up a lot of things just by actively listening and taking feedback on board as applicable.

CHIPS: Switching gears – Flank Speed began its rollout more than a year ago. Can you share your thoughts about successes as well as lessons learned from this initiative? Rear Adm. Hines: Oh, absolutely. I just got an update from PEO Digital, and what they did is a Fiscal Year 2022 Year in Review for Flank Speed. Before I came into this job I was one of the ones that was like, “Oh, Flank Speed, oh my goodness.” And we went from “Oh, I’m being flanked,” to “Wait a minute, I got this great tool!”

This is the Navy’s new cloud network environment that provides a permanent single enterprise Microsoft 365 solution for modern operations. Flank Speed provides an increased security posture that will ultimately deliver an expanded improved and more seamless user experience to support a more productive Navy workforce. To give you some statistics on the number of people that we’ve migrated – 486,740 users now have global Flank Speed access. We have a target of 528,000 and we are definitely on track to meet that target. We are making some headway with respect to our SharePoint migration; we’ve transferred over 540 million files. As for utilization, we have had about a 60% weekly increase in Flank Speed Teams. This Teams capability is where you have the audio and video conferencing. I think at some point the video conferencing will replace the VTC services that expand the Navy’s ability to communicate across the globe with stakeholders, vendors, customers and warfighters. I think we can overall assess the productivity by using Teams as a nearly two-thirds increase in weekly collaborative meetings.

A lot of this started when we went into COVID. We were using CVR at the time, and then it was, “Oh, wait, and now we’re getting this [Flank Speed] out.” So we rolled it out quickly, with some impacts as I previously stated. Now people are embracing it. One of the lessons that we did learn when we rolled this out is that we didn’t have the bandwidth to support, especially for a lot of people using it from home – we had what we call a B1 boundary. And we did some upgrades in various areas. We did them in San Diego, Hawaii, Norfolk; I think we’re completing Bremerton. But in all those major fleet areas, we expanded the bandwidth. That’s what the B1 upgrade did. What we found out though, is that there’s other infrastructure problems that existed – copper, or just things that need to be fixed. You can have a wider pipe or wider bandwidth, but you need to have the infrastructure to support that. That’s a lesson that we did learn – we upgraded the boundary, but didn’t fix the infrastructure, and we are working through those issues with PEO Digital now.

There’s another thing we’ve embraced as far as the capabilities: Office 365, email, the Microsoft Suite tool, the collaboration software that I mentioned. In fact, we have what we call the Flank Speed Executive Experience, where we had our executive-level teams go through a little tutorial of some of the different capabilities. One example is the capability of having multiple people work on one document at the same time. It’s very collaborative compared to how we used to function using shared drives. This is something that can be dynamic, and it definitely improved our efficiency. Another capability that has been improved is the Azure Virtual Desktop. For example, some very senior leaders have their personal phone synced up with Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), so they have email, Teams, and everything that they need as if sitting in the office behind a desktop. It improves functionality so the user does not have to be on a government machine at their desk or lug a government computer everywhere they go.

SharePoint Online is also something that we’ve improved. I think I talked about the data that we moved there, not just the mobility. Initially with Flank Speed, there was a concern because I could read my email, but I couldn’t read encrypted email. Now, we’ve actually transitioned the BlackBerry UEM to Microsoft Intune, which allows us that ability to actually read encrypted email. That’s something that we’re still working through. The lesson learned was that email could be seen, but not read encrypted. So we took that feedback on board and said, “Okay free this functionality so that you can do that.” From an offset standpoint, the command and control of the Flank Speed environment has certainly helped us out a lot.

For the future, we’re still looking for telephony integration to help us with our time division multiplex to Internet Protocol infrastructure upgrade. We’ve got some pilots that we’re moving out on to help us realize the efficiencies, because if we have the Flank Speed telephone integration, maybe we won’t need as many desktop phones. Many people still have the old phones, so we’re working through how we can leverage that capability that Flank Speed offers. And we’re also integrating the Flank Speed with Naval Identity Services, which will help us move toward what we talked about – that zero trust framework – to provide better security to the Navy enterprise.

I would say overall, if I had to sum up all the highlights—the Flank Speed migration, they have moved at scale; the audio conferencing, we have definitely moved out on that, we have multiple users for that; the Azure Virtual Desktop – that’s something that has transitioned from what used to be EVD to AVD; SharePoint Online (SPO), where we moved several hundred sites and data to the Flank Speed SPO environment; the mobility piece, the operational security, and then again, that’s the best B1 upgrade.

The next phase of this, from the feedback that I received, is focusing on what can we do next? We need to get rid of some of the old things that we have, we need to improve on our records management piece as well. We’ve come a long way, but there is still much more that needs to be accomplished as we move towards a zero trust framework. I really am excited about this. In fact, I was just on board the USS Wasp in Norfolk. I’ve been visiting the various concentration areas; I’ll go out and visit San Diego next week. And while I said, “Hey, Flank Speed is not here yet” to the ships, that’s because we have to work through how to make sure that it works in a denied, degraded, intermittent and latent environment, when you don’t have the bandwidth, or when you get cut off. We basically have to figure out how to make it work offline. There are some pilots that exist right now, where we’re putting things up like 5G and working with ships to figure this all out in that way, then we will be able to bring these capabilities to the fleet. PEO Digital is working aggressively to make sure that it’s available on ships at some point. That’s the next step that we need to figure out. And then again, as we recognize all the functionality, and listening to our customers: What else would you like to see to help us connect, align and engage better?

CHIPS: Is there anything else you would like to discuss?

Rear Adm. Hines When I first started this job, I told my team that working as the CNO’s executive assistant gave me a very strategic view of what the Navy’s priorities are. We are in the fight. I often say “no comms, no bombs.” So if you can’t communicate, you’re not going to be able to defend or support the warfighter. What we do in this job…we need to make sure we are listening to the fleet. We’re getting our priorities and our requirements racked and stacked so that we are ready for the fight, not just tonight, but what about today? And, of course, tomorrow.

Another thing that I always tell everybody is that it’s easy to say that we can move and we can shoot, but if we can’t communicate, we can’t do any of that. So we also have to stay focused on those things. I say this to put it at a higher level. It’s not just about downloading this or implementing that tool. We have to make sure we provide a reliable network to support the warfighter. I’ve been out there on the pointy end, and I’ve been out there where we lose connectivity. And the world that I grew up in where we could use HF [high frequency] to communicate – we don’t use that anymore. So we need to move into this new age – making sure that the things that we are investing in are relevant to make sure that we are supporting the warfighter.

I have an amazing team that is all in and that gets it at the highest level here in the Pentagon. Not just here, moving numbers around – no, we’re listening to the voice of the fleet. And we’re taking the guidance that the Chief of Naval Operations put out and we’re figuring out how we can manifest that. What do we need to do? From hardening our defense to assuring delivery, so that we can generate that decision advantage. I’ve got an all-in team and we’re all in it. We will continue to GET BETTER and move the needle while also keeping it REAL!

CHIPS Magazine, October-December 2022