Taking Command of the Future

October 2005
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom Jr., USAF, is director, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), and the commander of the Joint Task Force–Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO).
DISA’s new director examines near-term needs, far-term goals.

After years of building the military’s information superhighway, the U.S. Defense Department now is turning its attention to the information and services that travel on it and simultaneously is searching for ways to ensure a secure trip. To this end, the new head of the agency in charge of providing the department with the technical capabilities it requires will create a strategic vision that ensures that technology programs spiral in the right direction and lead to capabilities for use at the tactical edge. Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom Jr., USAF, the new director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, says this vision must define roles and responsibilities clearly and that developing it will require collaboration among the agency, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the services and industry.

Gen. Croom took command of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Arlington, Virginia, in early July. As the agency’s director, the general also is the commander of the Joint Task Force–Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO), and these complementary roles aptly fit what he sees as an evolutionary phase of information technology in the military. Now that the networks are in place, focus can shift toward professionalizing the tactics, techniques and procedures of network operations to ensure reliability and security.

The general’s objective to create a vision is in response to his hypothesis about why government efforts sometimes fail. “The theory is that we all want to do good, and we all have a lot of capability, but if we don’t share the same vision, what you get is a difference of views between OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], the Joint Staff, DISA and the services. My goal is to make sure that our vision is clear and that it’s well adopted and agreed to by all those wonderful partners that we have who do great work on their own,” he says.

But mapping out a plan for the future is only the first part of the solution. Once everyone agrees about where they are heading, they also must define the roles and responsibilities of the organizations and personnel involved in the journey. So the second part of this initiative involves improving DISA’s partnerships with the OSD, the services and the combatant commands.

Although Gen. Croom believes creating a vision is vital, he is equally aware that other issues require attention, and personnel tops his priority list. Retaining and hiring the right people is a primary concern, as is training. Keeping up with the advances in information technology is the biggest challenge of our time, he says.

“As fast as we run, the ball stays ahead of us. Bringing the technologies into our schools and training our folks to work with these technologies is a very difficult task, and it’s one we struggle with all the time. Fortunately, our folks are out there learning on their own what we can’t teach them. But we can’t afford to run the network that way. We have to get ahead of the ball. We have to institutionalize the processes,” the general says.

Improving acquisition is another of the general’s priorities. Acquisition directly affects the warfighter, Gen. Croom states, so he wants to ensure that the spiral development of technologies can meet customers’ needs “just a hair faster.” The general applauds the work that has gone into the Global Information Grid–Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE) project, noting that the program, worth more than $800 million, will be complete within 30 days of the scheduled deadline.

Although other DISA programs such as the teleports are important, the general points out that these projects are stable. However, Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES), a relatively new program, requires some work. “The definition of NCES is different depending on who you talk to. So here is the issue again: Do we have a common single vision of what we want to deliver, and do we have clear roles and responsibilities for delivering it?” the general says.

Unlike the GIG-BE and other DISA programs that deal with networks, the NCES focuses on handling information and delivering services faster. The agency will review the program to ensure that it is well bounded and that the OSD, the Joint Staff, the services and the combatant commanders clearly understand it. In addition, DISA will examine the spiral development cycle to determine how to quicken the speed of service delivery.

Practical issues also are on the general’s mind. For example, DISA headquarters is scheduled to move to Fort Meade, Maryland, as a part of the Base Realignment and Closure recommendations. Approximately 75 percent of DISA personnel work at the Virginia site, and as part of his emphasis on retaining talented personnel, Gen. Croom is concerned about how to prepare the staff for the move.

In addition, the general recognizes that there is an ever-present need for the agency to satisfy its customers’ call for financial accountability in the services it provides. To satisfy this need, DISA will continue to improve the way it designates the costs of its services.

Improving customer relations has been a priority for the agency for some time. In 2001, now retired Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege Jr., USAF, DISA’s former director, introduced the 500-Day Plan as one tool to accomplish this task. The plan documented customer requirements and served as a vehicle to provide combatant commanders with a status report about meeting those needs.

Gen. Croom relates that he currently plans to “continue the goodness of the 500-Day Plan”; however, he would like to reduce its size and tie together requirements with the strategic vision. “The past 500-Day plans identified what the combatant commanders and services wanted. I want to create a funnel for these capabilities that puts them into some sense of where we want to be in the future. I’m going to spend a lot more time trying to describe in writing where we want to go. I’m not looking to have it right. I’m looking to put it on paper to initiate the discussion,” Gen. Croom says.

The challenges that the general faces in this quest relate to his priorities: retaining talented people, staying at the tip of the spear and being smart enough to lay out a vision that creates an open discussion. He adds a fourth item that is both a challenge and a priority: building a team. “The team of OSD, the Joint Staff, DISA, the services and the COCOMs [combatant commanders] needs to be built stronger in my view. There’s great recognition, more now than ever before, that jointness is the way to fight the next fight and to prepare for that fight. We all recognize that we’ve got to plan jointly; we’ve got to acquire our systems jointly; we’ve got to operate them jointly,” the general says.

Gen. Croom emphasizes that the current group of military decision makers understands the importance of working toward jointness. People like Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC, director, command, control, communications and computer systems, J-6, the Joint Staff, and Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, USA, the Army’s chief information officer, are proposing good ideas about how to improve the support of joint operations.

aThe operation Iraqi Freedom Combined Air Operations Center is the precursor to Gen. Croom’s view on how air missions will be conducted in the future. Advanced information-sharing capabilities will enable collaborative targeting, which will increase both the speed and the accuracy of attacks.
For example, Gen. Shea has begun a discussion about joint acquisition and configuration management, and Gen. Boutelle wants to move out aggressively on a centralized vision. Because military leaders agree about these priorities, Gen. Croom predicts that plans will be revealed in the near future regarding system-to-system engineering, configuration management and centralized acquisition.

In addition to management tasks, DISA has some technical challenges it must tackle. Even with the GIG-BE program, adequate bandwidth remains an issue, especially at the tactical edge. “You’re going to see us involved more and more on the tactical side. DISA’s been noted for the strategic communications. Well, shame on us. We’ve got to get our services and our bandwidth out to the tactical edge,” the general says.

The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program has great potential in this area and, once in place, it will significantly alter the way the military does business for the individual on the battlefield, Gen. Croom maintains. “We’re going to reach out and touch many customers with large bandwidth that we haven’t been able to touch before. The issue then is back to NCES. What services are we going to provide them? When you pick up a collaboration tool, that collaboration tool not only has to work on the core network, it also has to work on the tactical edge. When you’re searching for data, that search tool has to work on the tactical edge. If you’re going to bring in security, those security applications have to work on the tactical edge,” he explains.

And as the JTF-GNO’s commander, Gen. Croom is acutely aware not only of the importance of information security but also of the problems. “I can’t believe our networks haven’t been under greater attack than they are. I fear the day when they are. The JTF-GNO was stood up to protect our networks, but our networks are very complicated, and it’s not just one door into our network or 1,000 doors that we’re guarding and protecting. Network security has to be at the top of everything we do, more so than before,” the general states.

The JTF-GNO staff recently completed the second version of its concept of operations that in large part addresses the roles and responsibilities of all the organizations that operate the military network. It also identifies the command and control relationships among the JTF-GNO, the combatant commanders and the U.S. Strategic Command. The goal now is to further enhance the tactics, techniques and procedures, and to this end the JTF-GNO will be conducting tabletop exercises to determine the best ways to handle crises. One of Gen. Croom’s JTF-GNO priorities is to ensure task force operators are trained and certified akin to the way pilots are certified to fly aircraft.

The general predicts exciting and dramatic warfighting improvements in the future as a result of advances in technology. Collaborative targeting will be possible as multiple sensors in aircraft view the same target, share that information and coordinate the location within meters in seconds. “In the Kosovo air war, we had 800 aircraft up in the air at the same time—800 aircraft—all of them sensing but all that information dropping on the floor of the aircraft. Now, share that data and have smart applications that can merge those little digits. Then you’ve got knowledge of the battlefield you’ve never had before,” he relates.

The effect of sharing information applies to how services other than the Air Force will operate as well. Ground troops also form ad hoc networks as people continuously enter and exit them. What is required, Gen. Croom says, is the ability to verify that warfighters joining the network belong on it and are secure. This capability will boost information sharing and dramatically alter the battlefield, he states.

But the real improvement the general envisions for the future is an increase in the ability to be predictive. With the help of intelligent agents, networks will anticipate and fulfill requirements. A simple example of this capability is travel planning. As soon as a user begins arranging a trip, computers will automatically provide flight, hotel and ground transportation information. They will deliver weather data about the destination so travelers can pack the appropriate clothing. In the military realm, these intelligent agents will enable machine-to-machine virus protection and configuration management, the general predicts.

Industry can contribute significantly to bringing these capabilities to fruition, beginning by helping DISA create its vision. “Industry needs to be a little bit more visionary as well. We’re going to write this vision down because we want people to take it; throw arrows at it; expand it; say, ‘No, you’re wrong here,’ or ‘Have you thought about this?’ and we’re going to build this vision,” Gen. Croom says. Industry must help write the vision because the commercial sector is on the tip of the technology spear and knows what capabilities technology can provide, he adds.

From the technical standpoint, multilevel security is one capability that is definitely needed. “Industry says, ‘Tell us what you want.’ We’ve wanted multilevel security for 20 years. Unfortunately, they have some solutions, but none of them is scalable across the huge global network. Coalition operations are extremely critical to us, and we have 1,000 workarounds right now that are archaic, historic and prehistoric and aren’t working very well. We need continually improved tools to protect our network. Even given the attention we’re paying to our networks now, we’re still being hacked into. We’re still having trouble finding out where all that’s coming from,” the general states.

Interoperability also continues to be an issue that must be resolved, he admits. Many solutions, such as collaborative tools, do not operate well together, which forces the military either to choose a family of products or to expend time matching different products and ensuring that they can operate together.

Gen. Croom is well aware of the immensity of his new position. He emphasizes that the talented personnel at DISA, whom he has extreme faith in, will allow him to continue to meet with customers, to oversee major projects and to work on the vision as well as foster partnerships and continue to develop the JTF-GNO.

The general also recognizes the expertise available to him from outside the agency. “Let me repeat: partnership, partnership, partnership. We need to work together collectively with the combatant commands, the services, OSD and the Joint Staff, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the people heading up those organizations and the opportunities we’re going to have to partner,” he states.


Web Resources
Defense Information Systems Agency: www.disa.mil
Joint Task Force–Global Network Operations: www.stratcom.mil/fact_sheets/fact_jtf_gno.html