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The Army Maneuvers Back to the United States

July 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Magazine
E-mail About the Author

 

A U.S. Army soldier uses the Joint Capabilities Release of Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) during a U.S. exercise. The Army is reconfiguring its networking to reflect an overall force shift back to the U.S. mainland.

Domestic basing and cyber operations dominate service networking issues.

The wind-down of U.S. Army combat operations, along with the re-balance in national military priority toward the Asia-Pacific region, is forcing a shift as well as a surge in Army networking. The service must continue to modernize the network to meet growing capability demands, but it also must adapt its architecture to accommodate major changes in force deployments and missions.

These changes take the form of an entirely new single information environment that will be developed across the Defense Department. As a major player, the Army will both influence and adapt to the new environment. Entering the force are mobile computing and communications systems based on commercial consumer technologies, and these must be absorbed without unduly disrupting the network or threatening its security.

The increase in cybersecurity threats also is changing the way the networked Army operates. With the network extending down to the warfighter, individual soldiers must learn to wage cyber operations at all levels. And, this threat is evolving as quickly as information technology changes.

After a decade of overseas combat operations, the Army is transitioning to a continental United States (CONUS)-based force. Traditionally, the Army has relied on a forward-based presence in Europe, Southwest Asia and the Pacific region. But now, it will be siting most of its brigade combat teams in the United States.

Maintaining operational effectiveness from a CONUS-based environment is a foremost challenge, especially with the Army reducing in size over the next few years. The network must continue to ensure that the smaller Army does not lose its capabilities or effectiveness.

Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, USA, U.S. Army chief information officer (CIO)/G-6, is at the heart of these networking challenges. She elaborates that the Army must be able to deploy anywhere in the world, with little or no notice, into an austere environment, and quickly become a joint task force. “By building out the Joint Information Environment [JIE], we can take a team as small as a five-man squad—[up to] a division in a corps—and punch them out anywhere in the world and have them immediately connected to the network and their data once they land,” she states. “That’s the goal we are going after.”

The warfighter’s greatest need is access to information, the general offers. The network must be always on, always connected and accessible to warfighters in an instant. “They cannot afford to wait, and they have to have the trust that the network will be there and will be on when they connect,” she emphasizes.

The Defense Department’s thrust toward the JIE is a major influence on the Army’s networking plans. And, Army networking may have a major influence on the JIE, the general posits.

“If we could design this Joint Information Environment from scratch and start from the beginning, we probably could do it faster and cheaper,” Gen. Lawrence declares. “But, the fact that we’re still at war—still dependent on many legacy systems, still must stay connected to our joint and coalition partners as we go through this—it’s like that old cartoon that you’ve seen … we’re building this aircraft while in flight.

“So, we must work out the architecture so that we have a single vision, a single road map and a single understanding of what it is that we’re trying to achieve, so that as we invest our precious resources toward this end-state, we have it in the right priorities,” she warrants.

The general continues that the Army has been moving into this type of environment because it “could not afford not to.” Accordingly, the Army is well-positioned to contribute services to the JIE.

“A lot of the work that we’re doing already is foundational to the Joint Information Environment,” she observes. Work conducted in Europe illustrated how the U.S. European Command and the U.S. Africa Command could not afford to have their own networks, so the Army will be the single information technology service provider for both commands. This will be the first pilot for the JIE, she adds, noting that the Army is working with the U.S. Pacific Command on the same approach.

The Army information technology approach works well for enabling coalition interoperability. “Everything that we do has to have coalition in mind,” Gen. Lawrence points out. “We will not go to any other conflict without our coalition partners.

“What we want to do is work on a solution that is allied-mission-centric from the get-go,” she explains. “We can’t afford to build a new ‘network of the month’ depending on where we’re serving, so we’re setting standards for the Future Mission Network. This network will need to be an extension from the JIE to bring in any coalition partner given whatever the incident is—an earthquake, a humanitarian effort or an actual conflict.”

Gen. Lawrence offers that moving to enterprise email never was about email. “It was about single identity—[an individual] having a single IP address. In this JIE environment, we want you to be able to go anywhere in the world, connect to the network, [have it] authenticate you and get to your data.”

The re-establishment of the Joint Staff J-6 will help make the JIE a reality, Gen. Lawrence suggests. “If you left all the services to their own devices, we would not be an enterprise,” she declares. “What [the J-6] is bringing to the fight is setting the standards and configurations so that, as we hold our configuration control boards, we are meeting the joint requirements.”

Greater use of mobile communications devices, particularly commercial technologies, is the focal point of pushing the network and its vital information out to the edge. With so many different types of mobile handheld devices vying for warfighter uses, the Army is designing its network architecture to be device-agnostic. Gen. Lawrence explains that the Army must follow Federal Information Processing Standards and set technical standards to protect its information.

This entails a shift of the traditional paradigm in which data resided in a computing platform, she notes. Now, the Army will place the data in a cloud environment and then protect the cloud. Upon connection in a mobile environment, a user will be authenticated and granted access to the appropriate portion of the cloud based on the user’s credentials. When the user disconnects, the data remains in the cloud and not in the user’s device.

Gen. Lawrence relates that the Nett Warrior program already has proved its worth in that regard in a recent Network Integration Evaluation (NIE). A soldier wears an arm-mounted Android device that is connected to a Rifleman radio. This configuration allows the soldier to feed situational awareness information directly back to others from the tactical edge. Its use in the NIE represented an example of a commercial off-the-shelf solution being adopted after feedback from soldiers, she notes.

Other mobile technologies are under consideration, and Gen. Lawrence reports that some of their manufacturers are allowing the Army to embed its own security chips into their devices. Working with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the Army is testing Android and Apple devices on a network in which the handheld units are secured at the edge instead of in the devices themselves. Those tests should conclude early next year, at which point the Army should have an approved solution for security with agnostic devices, the general offers.

 

A Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle is equipped with the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Rifleman Radio to provide extended line-of-sight networking in rugged terrain. Testing within the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) has opened new doors to maintaining connectivity throughout the deployed force.

Gen. Lawrence explains that, traditionally, a new technology would turn the network on its head. The Army would have to build a new gateway and take measures to ensure interoperability. But now, the Army is testing its first joint baseline infrastructure at Fort Bliss. This testing will help establish technical standards that must be met by industry to sell agnostic devices to the Army. “Instead of having everything turn the network upside-down, we’re standing up the configuration control board that will publish the standards,” she points out, adding that industry is favoring this approach.

This thrust to baseline standards extends throughout the network. The general relates that network operations have become more complex than necessary. She cites an example of how the multitude of devices incorporated during the NIE at Fort Bliss required extensive networking efforts. When representatives of the G-6 office examined the problem, they discovered 76 different network operations tools just at the brigade combat team level.

“You cannot put a network together like that,” she observes. The Army already has terminated more than 30 of those tools, and the remaining tools have been evaluated for further terminations at the most recent NIE. Meeting new standards for network operations tools will be requisite for industry to provide technologies to the network, she states.

The general adds that, when she became the CIO/G-6, she discovered that the Army had more than 90 policies on how to operate on the network—many outdated and contradictory. She rescinded nearly all of them, so now a commander can focus efforts on only two key documents—one on network operations, the other on network protection.

Another initiative the Army is pursuing involves network training in CONUS. Instead of requiring forces to train on the tactical network in the field, the Army is moving warfighting terminals back to facilities in CONUS and hooking them into the LandWarNet. This way, soldiers can train in their CONUS base the way they will fight every day.

This approach is called “installations as a docking station,” Gen. Lawrence says. Six installations currently have this capability, and the Army is accelerating these efforts.

The Army also is moving the Afghan Mission Network inside the headquarters of those who soon will deploy to Afghanistan. This way, those soldiers will become familiar with that network before they ever arrive in theater. Gen. Lawrence notes that the 82nd Airborne Division’s headquarters at Fort Bragg had been receiving operational and intelligence updates every day from the people the division would be replacing when it deployed. The data itself was moved virtually to Afghanistan to greet the division’s commander when he landed. “He had the latest information before he got on the airplane,” Gen. Lawrence relates.

The general explains that a top priority for Army cyber experts is to address a major shortcoming. “We’re an absolute sieve in that we’ve allowed everybody to connect to the network,” she allows. “We’re redesigning the architecture now where we will get behind 20 to 30 joint regional-level architecture stacks of equipment—and put everybody behind it to protect them.” She continues that sensors then will be placed on those stacks on the forward-facing perimeter of the network, and that will help secure the network and its data.

Just as the Army is moving the network down to the individual warfighter, so too is it extending responsibility for cyber operations down to the individual. Gen. Lawrence explains that the Army is working through its cyber issues largely by asking what tools the soldier has if he/she needed to fight a cyberfight tonight. The service has been looking at roles and responsibilities, after which it will conduct tabletop exercises where it will rehearse cyber operations.

“We’re all cyberwarriors at the end of the day,” she says, echoing the direction generated by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, USA. “We’re all responsible for the protection of our information. If you have a BCT [brigade combat team] deployed outside of the continental United States—where the network is pushed forward to that BCT—that BCT commander must be able to monitor the security of the network and the protection of his information and, if attacked, how he defends.

“And/or, if out on the edge, he identifies a threat, how does he eliminate that threat? We will push that cyberfight all the way to the edge,” she warrants.

Training is key, the general adds. Just as when commanders would train to conduct combat operations in a heavily jammed environment, soldiers are being trained to fight through a denial-of-service attack on their network. In some ways, this resembles the basic signal environment—primary, alternate, contingency and emergency means of communications, also known as PACE. Today, soldiers are being trained to apply the same principles to network operations.

Ironically, soldiers’ personal lives may be helping improve their understanding of cyber issues. Gen. Lawrence notes that the public is becoming more aware of identity issues and open-source information, particularly through social networking sites. In its curricula, the Army also educates soldiers on how to protect themselves individually in cyberspace.

As with all the services, the Army faces budgetary pressures aimed at cutting its spending. Gen. Lawrence relates that she has been directed to “capture efficiencies” in her modernization efforts. The goal is to reduce Army information technology spending by $1.5 billion annually beginning in fiscal year 2015.

The general relates that her office is discovering a number of efficiencies in its move toward an enterprise environment. One example is data center consolidation. The Army is assuming responsibility for 25 percent of the data centers being closed across the federal government, she states. The service is working with DISA and using other services’ and agencies’ data centers to consolidate its data so that the Army has only five core data centers.

The Army also is looking at where it may make sense to do thin-client environments, she notes. Many units among first adopters are working that issue. Moving toward a thin-client architecture will eliminate substantial maintenance and life-cycle replacement costs.

Other savings beckon. Gen. Lawrence estimates that the Army has more than 30 distinct networks on the unclassified side. These networks evolved under normal conditions, but collapsing them into a single environment will eliminate a host of redundancies ranging from services and infrastructure to maintenance and personnel support.

“The key is capturing cost savings as we move to these enterprise solutions,” the general states, adding that she believes the Army will meet the $1.5 billion annual reduction goal.

Industry will play a role in helping the Army realize those network efficiencies. The general notes that businesses understand that the Army must move to an open architecture. Sole, proprietary solutions will not work in the future, especially as the JIE is built out. This calls for a common operating environment and configuration controls.

Authentication is another key technology area in which the Army is looking to industry for solutions. Instead of the current use of Common Access Card/Public Key Infrastructure (CAC PKI), the general wants industry to develop an easier authentication solution that is just as secure.

Gen. Lawrence is challenging industry to help the Army focus on its needs, as she admits that the service has caused problems with its acquisitions in the past. “We have not been very smart in writing some of our requirements,” she allows, citing one example in which a requirement mandated that an electronic device function after being held under 1 meter of water for two hours. Industry followed this guideline, which actually was pretty useless in combat. “We probably would have a really cool device, but a very dead soldier if we held him under water for two hours,” the general points out.

“Don’t let us do dumb things,” she states, addressing industry. “If we’re putting a requirement on the table that doesn’t make sense, come back to us and challenge us.”

WEB RESOURCE
U.S. Army CIO/G-6: http://ciog6.army.mil