Search:  

 Blog     e-Newsletter       Resource Library      Directories      Webinars     Apps
AFCEA logo
 

Army Network Expands Amid Combat

August 2006
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

 
A U.S. Army captain radios a situation report during a raid on insurgents in Iraq. The U.S. Army is moving network technologies into the field as quickly as possible to support the warfighter while managing the implementation of its LandWarNet.
But complexities emerge as network support becomes crucial.

The U.S. Army is expanding the reach of its overarching information network down to the individual warfighter as demands for connectivity increase with the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only is the Army introducing new systems into the warfighting environment, it also is selecting elements of long-term programs for early insertion into the force.

But the deeper the network penetrates the force, the more complex are its challenges. These range from sheer cost to interoperability among new and legacy Army systems. And, as always, security is a major concern.

At the heart of this effort is the Army’s LandWarNet, its element in the Global Information Grid (GIG). Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, USA, chief information officer/G-6, U.S. Army, states that his top priority is to extend LandWarNet across all domains. This begins in the U.S. sustaining base comprising depots and acquisition programs and extends networked data centers across the continental United States (CONUS) to overseas locations in Europe and Asia. It also encompasses the tactical realm of corps, divisions, brigades and battalions. LandWarNet efforts have pushed the edge of the network lower down the chain as technology allows, Gen. Boutelle says.

Bringing the Internet protocol (IP)-based network down to that lowest level is among the toughest challenges facing LandWarNet implementation. Radios have become more efficient and IP capable, and this has helped improve lower level connectivity over the past few years.

“LandWarNet must be seamless converged IP from the sustaining base to the warfighter on the battlefield,” the general declares.

However, achieving this brings about a new challenge. Each time the edge of the network is extended lower, the network scales larger. Each level brings a greater number of platforms and vehicles into the network. As warfighters are equipped with connectivity, their devices may be individually inexpensive but collectively costly.

“My biggest concern is extending that network out to the lowest level, yet doing it with some fiscal reality that we can sustain and support in the out years,” Gen. Boutelle states. “With the common operational picture and data to the lowest level, we are creating a huge network—LandWarNet. We have to be able to sustain that in the short term and the long term.”

Another challenge is to protect this network with information assurance products. The force’s global pervasive networks include intranets, and their commercial IP technologies provide a fertile ground for cyberspace adversaries. Gen. Boutelle likens the situation to the Cold War, when both sides constantly strove to gain an advantage with armored vehicles. The result was rapid developments in both armor and anti-armor weaponry. Now, U.S. forces have networks and network defenses, but adversaries are attacking those networks constantly. The United States must continuously improve network defenses, whether patches, firewalls or identification systems.

“If I were to lie awake at night and worry about one thing, it would be protecting our networks that we’re expanding,” Gen. Boutelle states. “We’re moving those networks, we’re pushing that edge forward … it’s about the network as an enabler for the warfighter.

“The network enables them to do so much more and become so much more lethal. But, at the same time, as you extend that network out there, you have to protect that network—and that is the biggest concern that I have on a day-to-day basis,” the general warrants.

The Army is following both conventional philosophies for securing a network—guarding the network and securing the information flowing on it. Access to the network will be guarded at the highest level, but at the same time, data at rest will be protected in the network.

The commercial sector is one source of solutions. Many elements of the financial sector, for example, must protect their networks in the same manner as the military. The biggest difference is that the military is extending its network to the lowest levels, the general observes.

About 75 percent of the Army uses Common Access Card (CAC) log-in procedures. All notebook computer hard drives will require CAC access in about 18 months. Army processing centers may see different ways of encryption. As soon as the Army meets Homeland Security requirements for access via both a token and a personal identification number, it next will focus on the information flowing through the networks. Gen. Boutelle warrants that all of that information—even if it is flowing on the nonsecure Internet protocol router network (NIPRNET)—will be subject to CAC encryption. That should happen sometime next year, he adds.

In addition to conventional device-driven protection, the Army is looking at biometric security. Ultimately, biometrics will be the primary means for secure access, the general predicts.

All of the services are working to speed new information technology products and capabilities to warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Army is no exception. Many of these new systems lie outside of long-term acquisition programs, which runs the risk of a new generation of stovepipes being incorporated into the force. But Gen. Boutelle believes that this is not a problem with the Army’s rapid technology insertion because of its reliance on commercial standards.

Most of the new systems are built around commercial IP standards, he points out. Industry has shaken out which standards it will use in the Web environment—web services description language (WSDL); universal description, discovery and integration (UDDI); simple object access protocol (SOAP); and extensible markup language (XML)—and the Army has adopted them for its operations. Adoption of those standards allows the Army to buy technology off the shelf or to order systems from industry built around those standards.

This was illustrated during the response to Hurricane Katrina. The Army could introduce its satellite ground terminals or joint network node (JNN) equivalents that in turn could be connected to commercial land-mobile radio or cellular networks. “Instead of building stovepipes, we have opened up an architecture to where we can add in and grow our systems quickly,” the general states.

“Now that we have gone to an IP architecture—and the GIG and its DISN Core [Defense Information Systems Network Core, which absorbed the now-operational GIG–Bandwidth Expansion] are an IP architecture—the architecture itself is standards-based. So if you look at an air defense, intelligence or fire support piece of the architecture, if it is IP-based, it pretty easily conforms to our architecture at a transport level,” he maintains. “That is almost the easiest part to do now.”

 
Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, USA, shown here in the field, is the chief information officer/G-6, U.S. Army.
The most difficult piece may be applications. Gen. Boutelle cautions that the Army must spend considerable attention and resources on applications, data, data standards and data elements. “Once you network things together, you find out that you have a lot of disconnects,” he allows. “You’ll find two databases that never had to talk to each other, and they both had the same data element.” In many cases, these two databases can generate information that would be far more valuable than the sum of its parts—if the data can be consolidated properly.

Solving this hurdle will require resolving data standards as well as determining which is the authoritative organization that owns the data. The Army is beginning this process, the general reports, and he expects it to be very onerous. It even may require arbitration to determine some of the authoritative data sources.

The presence of the commercial sector drives many aspects of LandWarNet. For example, network management in the fixed base and sustaining base follows the commercial model, Gen. Boutelle offers. This network management largely is a matter of policy—“deciding what you want to do and imposing it,” he says.

That network management comes under the Joint Task Force Global Network Operations (JTF GNO) at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). But when the network reaches further down the chain, managers must deal with mobile networks. These networks can be turned off and on, can move quickly from one venue to another and can be operated in locations that lack infrastructure, Gen. Boutelle points out. Many of the tools used in a fixed infrastructure such as the country’s large domestic data centers may not be usable in a limited-bandwidth tactical mobile network.

Some of network management products go down to lower level, Boutelle continues. But beyond that, the Army must look at other products, including commercial ones. Industry knows that the Army needs network management products that work in a mobile small-bandwidth environment, and the Army is working closely with the commercial sector to evaluate its products. Only in a worst-case scenario will the Army build its own or contract with industry for a military-specific product, he emphasizes.

The general wants industry to understand fully the environment in which the Army operates today—its combat arenas in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as elsewhere in the global war on terrorism. The Army must extend and protect its network wherever it goes, he emphasizes. This environment likely will dominate Army operations for the foreseeable future.

“The global environment leverages the network,” he says.

In addition to biometrics, key commercial technologies include battery technologies and the convergence of IP, the general offers. “Everything—voice, data and video—is converging in IP,” he states. “How do you do that in a less-than-desirable environment?”

Sustaining LandWarNet in the short term and the long term is an issue that must face “fiscal reality.” Gen. Boutelle explains that the Army leveraged its supplemental funding over the past two years to expand LandWarNet capability. Teleport upgrades will be a big part of that, and the Army is moving into the third generation of IP. The JNNs and JNN hubs collocated at the teleports are partially funded, but the biggest challenge may be to convert the integrated theater signal battalions above division from old MSE-TriTac to IP or JNN. Only one of those 22 battalions is so resourced, the general allows. If those battalions are not converted to IP, they will create a bottleneck between CONUS data centers or teleports and JNN. One battalion is undergoing conversion, and funding may exist to convert three more battalions.

   But supplemental funding will decline and ultimately run out, and the Army must be in a position to continue supporting LandWarNet. “Total cost of ownership is a great concern to this organization,” Gen. Boutelle says. “We look at everything we do, everything we recommend, everything we acquire. What’s it going to cost to sustain this?” Long-term costs include information assurance, upgrades every few years and management of this large network, the general observes.

   And, fiscal reality affects many aspects of ongoing and future Army information programs. With the Army engaged in an active war, many discretionary funds are directed toward warfighter needs. Gen. Boutelle notes that many of those needs include different types of radios, some of which have been in service for some time.

“JTRS [Joint Tactical Radio System] is a must. It’s the right thing to do, we all need to go there and it is the future,” the general declares. “But we also have a large number of current radios, so the immediacy of need for JTRS is somewhat mitigated by all of the new things that we have bought and put into the war.

“So, we need to stay totally focused on JTRS, because the radios that we bought for the war are symptomatic relief,” he states.

The same situation holds true for electronic systems in the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) and the Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T). Gen. Boutelle notes that these two systems were designed before the war on terrorism began in September 2001. Instead of building the two systems slowly and methodically, they must be brought into the warfighting force as soon as their technologies mature.

In FCS, technology spinouts are inserted into the force as soon as they are available. WIN-T technologies are viewed as upgrades. The general notes that the Army bought the JNN, which runs converged IP, for symptomatic relief in the war. As WIN-T technologies become mature—some of which proved their maturity at their developmental test this past spring at Fort Huachuca, Arizona—the Army must bring those mature WIN-T technologies into the force as soon as possible. “Spin them out or bring them in early as they are available for the current force—don’t wait,” he emphasizes. “If you have something that is mature, that’s ready to go, that we can use in the current fight, let’s bring it in now—both from FCS and from WIN-T.” 

This approach also reduces the problems that come from suddenly introducing a fully new system into the force. Instead of the shock of operating an entirely new system, the force incorporates it incrementally. And, a significant amount of risk is mitigated. 

Web Resources
U.S. Army CIO/G-6: www.army.mil/ciog6
DISN Core (as GIG-BE): www.disa.mil/pao/fs/gigbe3.html
Defense Department Biometrics: www.biometrics.dod.mil