Cyber threats are like rust—they never sleep. Somewhere, whether here at home or in some far-flung corner of the world, people ranging from thrill-seeking hackers to state-sponsored terrorists are cooking up new, more powerful, more insidious attacks. Some—far too many—of these will be successful. A typical reaction to such frightening news is … a yawn.
It seems today that everyone is going mobile and virtual in conducting business. Military forces on the move are being given better access to critical information needed to conduct military operations, and business leaders are almost constantly connected to others in their fast-moving, daily business lives. Not long ago, we thought that being able to plug into a data stream at a wall socket was pretty agile and “high-speed.” However, we’re quickly moving into an era where wireless connectivity and virtual presence are provided almost everywhere we travel. Most people I pass on the street today are connected to someone on the other end of a powerful handheld communication device.
We all know the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) as the agency that grew out of its predecessor—the Defense Communications Agency (DCA)—to manage a full range of information technology systems and services for the Defense Department. But more than a name change took place since that transition. The DISA of today bears little resemblance to the organization that took on this expanded mission.
Information silos and data hoarding are more than annoyances—they cost lives and disrupt missions. Although government leaders understand the need to share information, not only among agencies but with allies and the private sector, progress has been slow and uneven.
The United States learned a series of painful lessons in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It became immediately evident that federal, state and government agencies at all levels had to share information more efficiently. The founding of the Department of Homeland Security was a key step toward coordinating communications and cooperation between the various components of the government. But the scale of the effort meant that creating a national information-sharing architecture would take many years to establish.
Wireless air interface protocol stack technology created by an Australian firm is receiving development funding from In-Q-Tel, an independent strategic investment group launched by the Central Intelligence Agency. This funding aims to bring new technologies to the U.S. intelligence community.
A missile upgrade kit will allow U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft to attack mobile targets precisely while limiting collateral damage. Applied to a combat-proven high-speed missile, the modifications permit pilots to select specific areas to attack and to designate restricted zones within a target area. The enhancements allow the military to convert a relatively specialized radar-seeking missile into a multipurpose attack weapon.
Social networking and other Web 2.0 capabilities are creating new avenues for commerce by facilitating communication inside the corporate structure and extending collaboration beyond company walls. Key to making the most out of new technology, however, is determining corporate goals before throwing a new tool into the mix. When chosen and applied judiciously, nearly every Web 2.0 weapon—from del.icio.us to wikis—can play meaningful and profitable roles within any company.
The U.S. Navy is working hard to keep humans out of minefields. The service is developing a host of autonomous and air-deployed capabilities to detect and neutralize mines at sea and in littoral zones. These systems, which are now entering service, will reduce and ultimately eliminate the need for divers to disarm and destroy mines in person.
The U.S. Navy is turning over the modernization of a shipboard network system to private industry to speed the introduction of new technologies and capabilities. The upgrades currently being introduced into the system help bring ship networks into the Web 2.0 era and provide the flexibility to accommodate more communications advances as they are incorporated into the fleet.
The U.S. Navy has made great strides in the communications field in the past two years, but the work is far from over. When the position of deputy chief of naval operations for communication networks (N-6) on the staff of the chief of naval operations was reinstated in 2006, the vice admiral who moved into the spot recognized naval needs and implemented measures to move the sea service forward both through technology and policy. Now, as he prepares to retire and pass the reins to a successor in June, he can see many of his plans coming to fruition and make recommendations for the path ahead.
Pentagon officials are aggressively tackling the spectrum supportability problems that plague the U.S. military both in the United States and abroad. In response to discussions at the Defense Spectrum Summit in December, personnel in the offices of the Joint Staff and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration hammered out details and approved a long-awaited update to the department’s official instruction on management and use of electromagnetic spectrum. A number of new initiatives have been put into motion, and military leaders agree that if the momentum of the summit continues, severe problems with spectrum management could be a thing of the past.
The Defense Information Systems Agency has transformed its acquisition policy over the past several years, and the success of the new method has resulted in cost savings and faster deployments of capabilities. As new programs—both large and small—advance, the agency plans to be as open as possible with industry in an effort to create synergy that will generate the best solutions.
A major Defense Information Systems Agency program is serving as a transformational change agent for the U.S. Defense Department by blazing a path toward the much desired network-centric method of data sharing. The system, which enables military information exchange in a trusted environment with dynamic and flexible users and needs, already has begun providing capabilities to customers. It is about to enter the initial operational test and evaluation phase.
Not content with being a global service provider, the Defense Information Systems Agency is striving to extend its network to take advantage of new capabilities that it is introducing into the force. Many of these new capabilities magnify the power of the network as it reaches the tactical edge, and they may change the nature of communications and information flow.