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Defense Information Increasingly Flows Two Ways

November 2000
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Leap ahead and reach back become complementary concepts for military network mavens.

The information assets inherent in strategic connectivity may soon extend down to the individual soldier in the foxhole. Not only will combatants be able to provide their own slant on theater operations, they also may be able to tap the massive data resources of the entire U.S. Defense Department.

Common command and control platforms are expanding their reach across the range of the department. This enables individual services to interoperate to a greater degree without either abandoning legacy systems or foregoing promising new technologies. The military’s increasing reliance on commercial hardware and software standards and services is introducing leap-ahead technologies that can be applied across the defense spectrum.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), with customers ranging from the president of the United States down to the private in the foxhole, is taking a corporate approach to providing network services to its customers. The agency now is reaching into the individual services to provide them with network capabilities that they previously had to develop on their own. It also is empowering them to develop new capabilities that can be extended across the realm of multiservice operations. And, it is engaging in a three-pronged thrust to improve both joint and coalition interoperability.

“Information is power,” says Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege, Jr., USAF, DISA director and manager of the National Communications System. “You have to allow information superiority to become a reality. That is still one of our key requirements so that we can enable decision superiority to take place.”

Gen. Raduege’s goal for DISA draws from the business world. Assuming command this past summer, he wants to build the agency into “the preferred provider of services” for the military. Under this approach, customers would clamor for the agency’s services rather than turn to it because it is mandated. He emphasizes that the main selling points are joint interoperability, assured security and best overall cost.

The agency has made major investments in bandwidth and technology to enable it to meet its commitments. This represents a new emphasis on meeting customer needs through a more flexible approach, he says. Warfighting requirements such as interoperability and security, along with overall enterprise economies such as best value for the cost, would be preserved.

In his short tenure at DISA, the general has made some management changes. Foremost among these is the creation of a new position: principal director for network services. This position, which resides directly between the DISA deputy directors and its director and vice director, is filled by Brig. Gen. Bernard K. Skoch, USAF, who used to head the DISA D-6 deputy directorate.

Gen. Raduege relates that he created this position because of his belief that some areas of network services were lacking at DISA. This new position should improve the agency’s customer focus, he says. Shortcomings in network services included both a lack of focus on the new world of information technology and of attention to providing network services instead of just circuits. The agency needed to concentrate on new information technologies, an information-technology-based world environment, expeditionary warfare with reach-back for network services and web services. Customers were asking for these capabilities as they were being driven to them, he allows.

The general says that he has detected a concern among customers that DISA is not being as forward thinking in its work with private industry as it should. This issue recently came to a head during planning for the Navy/Marine Corps intranet (NMCI). Gen. Raduege cites the NMCI as an example of the types of advanced capabilities that were not available from DISA. “There seemed to be a growing misunderstanding between DISA and the Navy and the Marine Corps on what we could provide for their network services needs,” the general relates.

Now, DISA and the U.S. Navy have reached an agreement on meeting NMCI requirements for network services. Under this agreement, the Navy will rely on defense information switched network (DISN) services for the NMCI. The Navy’s improvements in its own infrastructure in turn will improve the overall capabilities that DISA provides to joint forces through the DISN. The general expects this agreement to preserve joint interoperability, ensure appropriate levels of network security, and provide the best cost across the entire Defense Department.

“The Navy caused us to open our eyes to what some of our customers were really looking for DISA to provide,” Gen. Raduege declares. “We believe that this strong relationship that has been established between DISA and the Navy will be the model for much of what is yet to come with the other services.”

The general does not worry when the services pursue leap-ahead technologies on their own—he encourages it. “Our entire culture—and our robust economy—are based on leap-ahead initiatives,” he observes. “No one has a lock on intellectual initiatives. The services always will seek IT [information technology] solutions to support their forces, and DISA will always seek joint interoperability, assured security and best cost through common standards and services. The bottom line is that we must all partner together more openly and effectively to produce the integrated battlefield called for by Joint Vision 2020.”

He continues that DISA must be aware of whatever its key customers—the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force—are working on. Their individual service and joint experiments often pursue technology solutions that may be applicable to defensewide needs. DISA’s goal is to work in concert with services as early as possible to ensure commonality for each solution “up front,” Gen. Raduege emphasizes.

He cites the global command and control system (GCCS) as “an absolutely incredible story” of successful evolutionary acquisition and spiral development. “We have, in effect, established a standard command and control platform and foundation across the entire Defense Department,” Gen. Raduege continues. “The services, through their interactions with industry, bring on applications to solve their information technology requirements. Those applications are required to fit the standard protocols established by the global command and control system.” Anything that must go into the GCCS must meet its standard, which in turn helps extend that standard across the entire Defense Department.

The Army’s ongoing transformation is drawing an interested eye from DISA, the general states. He predicts that the service’s shift to a more agile and mobile force will increase its need for adaptive communications, computing systems and services. DISA’s defense enterprise computing centers, for example, can help meet the Army’s computing needs, including reach-back capabilities from deployed Army forces back into the agency’s computing centers. This is a function that can be extended to the other services as well.

More support for the Army may come from the Defense Department’s teleport program. DISA is its executive agent, and Gen. Raduege offers that it will enable the new agile Army’s combat forces to tap directly into the vast resources of the Defense Department from anywhere on Earth. These deployed forces will just need to plug into the teleport network to obtain this access. The strategic connectivity of DISN, which is represented by a host of defense networks, effectively will be deployed into the teleport. By being able to access this teleport, deployed forces will eschew the need for bringing tactical network, processing and personnel assets into a theater of operations.

“The services are really going to continue to answer their biggest needs for information technology and services on the battlefield,” Gen. Raduege states. “If their common needs can be platformed into the forward services [DISA] provides, that will allow them to reach back to a Defense Department teleport and into the strategic dimensions of the entire department.”

The general offers that the key to addressing domestic interoperability challenges lies in the Defense Department’s plan for the global information grid, or GIG. Describing it as “establishing a solid foundation we can all build on,” he continues that the benefits of incoming new technologies must be balanced against protecting GIG’s interoperability and security. The GIG policy under development by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence “goes a long way toward giving us a good rule set, and we’re all in favor of this,” he emphasizes.

In the international arena, interoperability and technology gaps between U.S. and European forces need not be large, Gen. Raduege suggests. Most information technologies are based on commercial off-the-shelf products, and European forces are implementing intranets and wireless technologies in the same manner as their U.S. counterparts. Governments on both sides of the Atlantic are working on standards and gateways to ensure interoperability.

The bigger challenge may lie in purely military systems. The United States is investing more heavily in new technology and security solutions, the general notes, and this may impose formidable barriers in the future. Exercises such as combined endeavor aim at addressing these potential conflict areas, but considerably more work lies ahead.

Several ongoing DISA measures aim to remedy this problem. Extensive interoperability testing, such as at the Joint Interoperability Test Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona (SIGNAL, May, page 23), ensures that mutually agreed-upon standards are upheld. Another thrust involves designating a minimum set of mission-critical capabilities on specific commercial products.

A third interoperability effort features a “very attractive” foreign military sales approach. The general explains that this involves offering more advanced U.S. capabilities at prices that reflect only the cost of additional work required to export the capability. For software, this extra cost might only entail the expense of producing additional CD-ROMs containing the software plus shipping and documentation costs. The Joint Staff reviews these foreign military sales on a case-by-case basis to ensure compliance with U.S. laws, the general adds.

The agency is completely dependent on commercial technologies and services, the general notes. Commercial communication services will continue to be a critical element, especially at fixed sites both in the United States and abroad. Nonetheless, commercial contractors must work closely with the agency to ensure utility.

“Just as DISA must be in lock step with the CINCs [commanders in chief], the services, the agencies and our other key customers across the entire Defense Department, our contractors must be in lock step with DISA in providing these types of services,” Gen. Raduege states. Strategic partnerships with other Defense Department entities, along with industry relationships, are key to mutual success, he emphasizes.

He notes that DISN has expanded over the past seven years by 5,409 percent. It comprises elements such as the secret Internet protocol routing network (SIPRNET), its nonsecure counterpart NIPRNET, the defense red switched network, the defense switched network, and videoconferencing. These critical elements have been largely responsible for this huge growth rate, the general says. Again, the focus is on network services.

Some areas are likely to remain the domain of military specifications. Hardened communications systems and networks, such as those protected against electromagnetic pulse (EMP), are not likely to emerge from the commercial sector. Milstar satellites, for example, provide common, hardened, EMP-protected, anti-jam communications for critical national security needs. “You just cannot go out and buy critical Milstar capabilities from industry today,” Gen. Raduege states.

Yet, commercial satellites will play an increasing role in military communications. Commercial satellite communications currently provide about 60 percent of defense satellite requirements, and that number is likely to increase to 80 percent in the near future.

As ever, the availability of sufficient bandwidth is a concern. Gen. Raduege notes that DISA contracts for all of the bandwidth that it requires. New technologies that allow greater bandwidth efficiencies are encouraging, he says. The agency is looking globally for solutions that ensure efficient military use of bandwidth.

Selling off military frequency spectrum, however, can end up costing the government more than it brings in, Gen. Raduege declares. The expense of converting military equipment and systems to a new frequency area can have a monetary effect potentially greater than the commercial sale revenues, and it also brings up an issue of fairness. “Our military services are the ones that will have to carry that bill,” he charges, “and if it is not reimbursed by those who are going to benefit from the new commercial applications of the military frequencies, then this is a huge undeserved bill presented to the military services.” Another issue is the large operational concerns of warfighters striving for joint and coalition interoperability. Shifting frequencies has significant implications in this arena. “We can’t move ahead blinded to the effects [frequency sales] may cause not only to operations but to costs of [spectrum] movement by the military services,” he warns.