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Army Communications Has a Hard Road Ahead

September 13, 2013
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

Cybersecurity, IT standardization, budget are all key concerns for U.S. Army, but "the sky is not falling."

TechNet Augusta 2013 Online Show Daily, Day Three
 
The U.S. Army faces daunting challenges today and in the future, but senior leaders are trying to mitigate issues by focusing on improvements in their areas of expertise. Lt. Gen. Mark S. Bowman, USA, J-6 of the Joint Staff, is promoting the Joint Information Environment (JIE) as a solution across the military. “The JIE is not automating the way we do business today,” he said during TechNet Augusta. Instead, it is a necessary capability that will do away with problems in current systems.
 
Security is one of the major concerns that the environment will help address. “People are marching around in our networks who aren’t supposed to be there,” Gen. Bowman stated. He later added, “Clearly, whatever we do, we need to make the network more secure.” Part of that will come through enforceable standards.
 
Though communications personnel in the past have promised big changes and savings, the general believes that this time will be different, in part because senior leaders across the board now understand the importance of information technology. Their buy-in makes a difference to acceptance and implementation.
 
Not all the military branches are enthusiastic about the JIE, most notably the Marine Corps, which wants to keep its own networks and services. However, Gen. Bowman said every branch will make the transition. Though the JIE will standardize technologies, there may be slight variations for mission reasons. Those will have to be vetted at “pretty high levels,” according to the general.  Another benefit of the JIE is agile information sharing with coalition partners.
 
It will not solve all problems. Troops in degraded environments still will have to make bandwidth allocation decisions, for example. But across the board infrastructure will feel the same regardless of service provider. Another change is sending alerts to all echelons at the same time, instead of following a chain of command. “When you’re out there providing a service, bad news isn’t going to get better with time,” Gen. Bowman stated. Alerting everyone allows the right people to fix issues sooner. The JIE is built for interoperability, which the general said must be built in and ready to go from the beginning. The first iteration of the environment reached initial operational capability at U.S. European Command on July 31.
 
All the work being done at the Joint Staff level to move toward enterprise services is being done without asking for extra money or avoiding any of the scheduled funding cuts. Gen. Bowman stated that when other organizations say they need more funding to meet requirements, they need to reevaluate resources.
 
Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, USA, deputy for acquisition and systems management, headquarters, Army, also addressed funding cuts and how they affect programs. He emphasized that for the last decade the military had money to fix program problems when they failed to execute. Now, that luxury is gone. “We gotta hit our marks,” Gen. Greene stated. According to him, in fiscal year 62, 49 percent of the federal budget went to national defense. In fiscal year 2017, that will drop to 12 percent. Additionally, the huge federal deficits are a national security issue at this point.
 
Gen. Greene echoed Gen. Bowman’s insistence on the importance of cybersecurity. The major general said that risk management must be built in from the beginning of acquisition or development processes, not tested or added at the end.
 
Despite all the challenges facing soldiers, industry still has plenty of opportunities to conduct business with the Army. “There will be RFPs coming out,” Gen. Greene said. “The sky is not falling.” RFPs are requests for proposals. Throughout TechNet Augusta, generals urged the private sector to prevent the Army from writing stupid requirements. The military cannot afford to ask for impossible or useless capabilities. Industry also can help by reducing complexity in technology, focusing on open systems and common operating environments and participating in the Network Integration Evaluations. Finally, they can invest their internal research and development dollars in areas of importance to the Army. Gen.  Greene said that if companies have any doubt what those are, please just ask. That idea was promoted by most speakers during the conference, who shared a desire to work closely and share as much information as possible with the private sector.
 

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