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British Communicators Become Service Oriented

January 2001
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A defensewide intranet is in the works for broad data access and interoperability.

The United Kingdom’s armed forces will be calling for communications based on capabilities rather than technologies, if the agency responsible for answering their calls is successful. This is the approach chosen for dealing with interoperability challenges, widespread legacy systems and the rapid introduction of new information technologies.

The United Kingdom’s Defence Communication Services Agency (DCSA), armed with a mandate for reorganizing the country’s military information infrastructure, is shifting away from technology-centric planning to a focus on services. The agency’s challenges range from delivering a defensewide human resources software package to producing a coherent command and control software package for field commanders. Concurrently, long-extant systems must continue to serve the military as new capabilities are introduced.

The DCSA’s vision is “information anywhere, any time, to enable defense effectiveness,” says Cdre. Patrick Tyrrell, RN, OBE. Cdre. Tyrrell, the DCSA’s deputy chief executive, notes that the commercial sector will play a key role in the agency’s modernization efforts.

“There is really no option but to have a commercially provided service,” Cdre. Tyrrell warrants. “Defense is no longer at the technological cutting edge.

“The problem that we have had over the past 15 to 20 years is that we have had a number of bespoke systems that have been very expensive and have not delivered that which we require. We need to build on the skills and expertise that are found in the commercial world,” he emphasizes.

The commodore relates that British troops recently involved in the Sierra Leone crisis resorted to commercial telecommunications for emergency messaging. A soldier who was taken prisoner used his mobile telephone to call his wife and alert her to his situation. At his instruction, she called the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and reported his predicament.

Despite the commitment to state-of-the-art commercial technologies, Cdre. Tyrrell notes that the military always will have some legacy systems. Modern information technology is leaping generations in a matter of months, but the military cannot afford to replace large complex systems in any time period less than several years. The key is to ensure that all new and legacy systems can plug into a common infrastructure.

This will require eliminating stovepipe systems, which, Cdre. Tyrrell adds, is the hardest task facing the military. “We all have our own preconceptions; we all have our own experience; and we all have our own hot topics. We must overcome those, and we must get the single services to realize that they will get the capability that they want, but [they shouldn’t] define that capability in terms of systems.”

The DCSA employs 4,000 people, which represents approximately 10 percent of its parent Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO). The agency was established in April 1998 to manage the defense fixed telecommunications contract that had just been let to the BT/INCA consortium. This contract focused on delivering fixed telecommunications services throughout the United Kingdom. It did not deal with wider requirements involved with overseas or international communications.

In addition to the INCA program, the DCSA absorbed responsibility for providing satellite communications, radio services largely in low frequency and very low frequency, and services supporting British forces in Germany. It now is assuming responsibility from the services for high frequency radio communications.

When the DCSA became a part of the DLO this past spring, it also added several DLO functions such as the Directorate of Communications and Information Systems (CIS) for Fleet Support and the Royal Air Force (RAF) Signals and Engineering Establishment, or RAFSEE. The DCSA additionally assumed responsibility for the corporate office technology system, or CHOTS, which links 30,000 people at MOD headquarters locations.

With these moves, the DCSA added significant activities at the information services layer to its existing duties at the transmission layer. Cdre. Tyrrell predicts that several more systems from the army and the air force will fall under the agency’s aegis. This will boost the agency’s areas of responsibility to all of the transmission layer and a majority of information systems in the military.

The commodore allows that the agency is looking to “move further up the stack” to business applications. The DCSA’s customers, he explains, are transiting from defining systems and network requirements toward capabilities. “They are saying, ‘I just need to be able to exchange information from where I am sitting in the MOD to a ship in the Indian Ocean or to tactical forces deployed overseas,’” he notes. “Our customers increasingly want to have a service provision and a solutions provision.”

Because the DCSA is taking responsibility for all these systems, it seeks to introduce a coherent defense information infrastructure to replace the “slightly chaotic” legacy systems currently in operation, the commodore notes. One problem that has bedeviled the providers of information services is the lack of funds for introducing new systems and services while concurrently maintaining legacy systems. The agency now is working to consolidate the responsibility for both new procurement and the running costs of these legacy systems. The integrated project team (SIGNAL, September 1999, page 27) leader, who is empowered to deliver capability, will be able to offset new procurements against ongoing support costs. This “financial coherence” will be the first in the U.K. CIS community, Cdre. Tyrrell states.

Information system coherence is the biggest technological challenge facing the DCSA, Cdre. Tyrrell states. “If we can get coherence across the MOD—to be able to enable people to have their information anywhere, any time—that will be important.” Calling it the “holy grail,” the commodore continues that end-to-end coherence will be delivered through equipment procurement, equipment support and service provision.

One key agency project is the development of a defense information intranet that would provide “the interconnectivity cloud” over as many as 200,000 terminals, the commodore offers. These would include both fixed and mobile units based on land, sea and air, including civilian military offices.

“This will allow people to exchange information whether they are in a small infantry battalion based in the countryside or whether they are the secretary of state for defense,” Cdre. Tyrrell declares.

Describing this intranet as the key to interoperability across the defense establishment, the commodore notes that the chief of defense logistics wants its interconnectivity across the entire DLO, and Project Chard is designed to deliver this infrastructure over the next 18 months. Once this is accomplished, the commodore states, it will serve as a framework for the rest of the defense community. The current timetable calls for this full intranet to be developed by 2004.

One issue currently under discussion is whether this intranet would be provided corporately or funded by contributions from individual defense organizations. The emerging view seems to favor the corporate approach, Cdre. Tyrrell says. This initiative is “well supported” by the government’s information age project, which focuses on electronic interaction between citizens and the British government, he notes.

The DCSA is looking to develop better capabilities in information assurance and defensive information warfare. Cdre. Tyrrell notes that the DCSA does face some unique challenges in information assurance. To provide an information service that allows the customer to have “anywhere, any time” access on time and at reasonable cost, the agency also must ensure that the customer has confidence in the quality of the service including information assurance. He emphasizes that this will require metrics that allow the DCSA to monitor service availability.

These metrics probably represent the greatest security challenge the agency faces. Being able to measure security and ensure its cost effectiveness are key issues. They also are essential for determining different levels of protection.

In the same manner, the agency must ensure that it has the technology and skills to identify and defend against hackers and information warfare attacks. “It is clear that, as we become more interconnected both within U.K. defense and within an international environment, the challenges of information assurance will become greater. We need to make sure that we stay up to speed with how the technology, the procedures and the concepts of information assurance are developing,” Cdre. Tyrrell declares. “That will be a particular focus of where the agency is going to go in the future.”

He continues that the DCSA must develop its global operations and security control center, known as GOSCC, as the agency increasingly gains visibility across the transmission and information systems layers. This development allows it to deal with partial system failures while continuing to deliver adequate service. Recognizing when systems are under information attack is part of the equation, and the agency must be able to work out the “protect, detect and react paradigm of information assurance,” Cdre. Tyrrell states.

This effort may include employing software agents to monitor systems. Another agency thrust will feature DCSA-led teams trying to break into the DCSA’s own systems to determine vulnerabilities. Having an information assurance focus will allow the agency to be more effective at implementing the correct procedures and doctrines, he says.

“Clearly, if you are using commercially available products, you are going to have to understand what their vulnerabilities are going to be. We all use systems that probably have Microsoft products somewhere,” he notes. “Those are available to anyone—good and bad—for determining whether there are any vulnerabilities in them.

“We cannot put in place systems that are going to be absolutely secure,” he continues. “If we could, we wouldn’t be able to use them, and therefore they wouldn’t have any utility. We do need to be able to make sure that we are giving commanders things that do the job they want them to and that we can manage dynamically any vulnerabilities that might emerge,” the commodore offers.

Providing systems that operate at the front lines while allowing users to access rear databases may require custom-made software, Cdre. Tyrrell allows. Ultimately, this trend will decline as the military begins to exercise influence over commercial software development. The commodore notes that the Ministry of Defence is Microsoft’s largest customer in the United Kingdom, and the ministry discusses many of its issues with the software giant.

Information security always will be an issue, but it is only one part of information assurance, Cdre. Tyrrell says. The agency will provide services that allow for information security. This might include public key infrastructure and built-in security, for example. Ultimately, the owners of the information must determine the appropriate level of security, and the DCSA will base its solution on the access capability that is required.

An interesting phenomenon is that users tend to vote for capability over security. Cdre. Tyrrell relates that most customers originally request access to classified secret material. However, when offered either secret access or a connection to the Internet, they tend to opt for the commercial system’s capabilities with only restricted-level operations.

The biggest surprise that Cdre. Tyrrell has encountered was how easily the initial single-service suspicion was overcome. He notes that the individual services recognized that, where the agency took over delivery of a service, “the end of the world did not come.” Consequently, they have been more prepared to examine alternative ways of providing communications services. They also are more amenable to “losing control of what—five years ago—they would have considered to be absolutely essential assets that had to be owned by them,” he notes.

In part, this is due to the success of the United Kingdom’s strategic defense review, which emphasized jointness rather than single-service operations, he continues. People also have recognized that their vital information services have continued to be delivered by the joint organization.

The country’s smart procurement initiative also is encouraging single-service and joint commanders to think in terms of capability rather than equipment requirements, Cdre. Tyrrell offers. “When we pick up a telephone in the civilian world, the only thing we are interested in is that the person we want to talk to picks up the telephone on the other end. We don’t mind how it’s routed by the telephone company; we don’t even mind how many different telephone companies are involved in it,” he says. “The acceptance of that service provision, and the mentality of accepting it, has allowed us to be able to do what we have done.”

The DCSA is working to develop a better understanding of interoperability requirements as a service provider. This task encompasses U.K. military services as well as international operations in both peacekeeping and wartime missions. Interoperability among the services has improved, Cdre. Tyrrell states. With most operations taking place in a joint environment, the individual services mainly provide their personnel and related platforms and other hardware. The DCSA is working on a test and reference capability that will allow users, within a short time frame, to examine different equipment for interoperability.

“Interoperability is much more than having the same equipment or even the same technological solution,” he says.

“The greatest advantage to interoperability has been Mr. Gates,” the commodore says of Microsoft’s founder. “There is a growing acceptance and understanding of modern computers, which makes the job so much easier. The ability to be able to move icons around and shift volumes of text is increasingly easier in other nations because they have the same operating systems.”

Cdre. Tyrrell cites the U.S.-based Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID) as one of the most valuable efforts in which he has been involved. Its ability to involve other nations has allowed nontraditional defense contractors to participate and offer interoperability solutions. He calls for rapid deployment of designated golden nuggets that emerge from each JWID.