Brig. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence, USA
Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) information technology environment is rapidly evolving and maturing, all to the benefit of the warfighter. Most of these changes are directly related to contributions from both the services and the joint command, control, communications and computers community. Today, we are applying technologies in a way that allows us to enjoy the advantages of the network-centric operational environment concept envisioned for tomorrow. This dynamic pace of change among applications, supporting infrastructure and mode of communication presents us with both opportunities and challenges.
In terms of potential, I see the fundamental technologies associated with Internet protocol (IP) traffic routing as having the greatest impact on CENTCOM both near- and mid-term. The current migration toward IP-based networks and the extension of the Defense Information System Network (DISN) and data services down to the lowest tactical echelons set the conditions for this. Additionally, proliferation of wireless networks and devices and the technical characteristics of the Transformational Communications Architecture are best realized with the convergence of voice, data and video into a common IP environment.
This convergence is happening today. CENTCOM’s current methods of circuit-based network design are a matter of legacy. The command and control (C2) tools of choice are no longer traditional telephones or radios; they are voice over IP, desktop collaboration tools with videoconferencing and mobile situational awareness displays. Tactical battalions have access to the secret Internet protocol router network and other DISN services equivalent to what a division headquarters received just a few years ago. Wireless data devices are becoming as common to warfighting as they are to business. CENTCOM has the vision and is employing the enabling technologies from the strategic level to the tactical edge.
Success in delivering an enterprise edge-to-edge capability to the operational community hinges on four key enablers. The first enabler must address the challenge of sheer volume. The transition to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) will exponentially increase the IP space available and the number of addressable nodes that can send and receive data, resulting in continued increases in traffic. To meet this demand, the command must successfully deploy the satellite-based IP routing envisioned for the Transformational Satellite program. Without this single enabling technology, CENTCOM will not meet the capacity requirements of tomorrow’s warfighters.
Effective quality of service is essential to converged data services. The importance of all data is not equal; therefore, it cannot be handled in the same manner. The command must be able to set traffic priorities and maintain the flexibility to adjust these priorities according to changing operational requirements. The key technical enabler to meet this challenge is not yet apparent. Once a technology solution is realized, the policy implications for Global Information Grid network operations must be addressed. A combatant commander must retain the authority to determine local quality-of-service priorities without negatively impacting global traffic management across a seamless network.
However, converged IP networks also pose new information assurance and communications security challenges. There are obvious implications with merging traffic of multiple classification levels. The current concept of a “black core” DISN backbone demands advances in both communications security technologies and management concepts not yet realized. Rather than simply integrating communications security at both ends, these security techniques will become an organic element of how data is routed.
Lastly, demands for wireless presence may bring the greatest technical challenges to IP traffic routing. While today we have a proliferation of wireless edge devices and local area networks at tactical command posts, tomorrow may require wireless provision of all core services. Whether at the CENTCOM headquarters or the company level, the commander and staff will demand the portability of all critical C2 capabilities. Each individual solution must be scalable.
As we continue our convergence to entirely IP-based networks, these technology challenges will be met through evolutionary approaches. The command will continue to operate legacy circuit systems for some time, to operate in a heterogeneous IPv4/IPv6 environment through a period of transition and to conduct IP routing terrestrially before realizing it in space. Many of these issues pose policy as well as technical challenges. However, I am not discouraged. The recent collective accomplishments within CENTCOM have fundamentally changed the way we conduct warfighting, and they give me confidence that we will adapt and leverage all new technologies in ways we can now only begin to imagine.
This sense of confidence was just recently reinforced during a visit to