Networking the World's Most Powerful Military

June 2006
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. Air Force communications engineer at a combined air operations center uses a radio over Internet protocol router network communication system to monitor Iraq convoy operations. New technologies are adding important new capabilities in Iraq, but they also are causing some problems as innovations pour into the network.
A trip to the front brings home issues and answers.

All that the U.S. Defense Department has to do to network the force properly is to implement advanced information technologies and systems through multi-billion-dollar programs; quickly equip combatants in two ongoing wars with state-of-the-art capabilities; ensure full interoperability among the services and coalition partners; and guarantee information assurance across the entire department infosphere. And, it must achieve these objectives successfully while the entire force undergoes a revolutionary transformation.

John G. Grimes, assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration (NII) and department chief information officer (CIO), is tasked with juggling these efforts. His office is working with the services and the commercial sector to bring the right technologies to bear as soon as possible. And, to ensure that these endeavors remain on track, he recently journeyed to Iraq and Afghanistan to study firsthand how communications and information technologies are affecting the warfighter—and what must be changed to improve those systems.

Network-centric technologies are key to transformation programs, Grimes points out. These comprise network-enabling command and control systems, network-centric enterprise services and information assurance programs. He describes these tasks as crucial “as part and parcel” to implementing the network-centric planning. The fast pace of refreshing and introducing technology into networks and services has not slackened, and the department has turned to commercial capabilities.

Spectrum management also is occupying much of Grimes’ time. With spectrum a finite resource, information technology units that show up in theater without proper allocation create issues of frequency domain management. The department is putting in place tools and organizations to do a better job of frequency management, he relates.

Grimes wears two hats in his position. Under one, he has a Title 10 role to advise the secretary of defense on issues related to command and control; communications and information networks; information assurance; radio frequency spectrum management; non-intelligence space; and position, navigation and timing. The other role as CIO under Title 40 is to manage information resources. He serves as an enterprise-level strategist in charge of departmentwide information policy and is the information architect for the Defense Department enterprise. He also is the department- wide information executive.

Grimes states that his top priority is to make the CIO role a recognized, high-level position that emphasizes information technology enterprise-level solutions globally. He is trying to bring CIO solutions to the department’s vast information technology needs.

In this role, he directs the organization to provide the enabling technologies for conducting network-centric operations, especially throughout the transformation. This will require establishing “a true information age CIO,” he says, for treating information as a strategic resource.

“My major priority as a CIO is to deliver critical IT-enabling capabilities to conduct network-centric operations,” he states. “How we do that is we have a $30 billion budget that I have to defend every year to support the IT technologies for network-centric operations.”

The coming department information technology budget calls for $30.9 billion in spending, down slightly from the 2006 figure of $31.9 billion. Warfighting systems would consume 28 percent of this budget, down from 31 percent just one year ago.

“Some of the challenges that I face—and some of them actually are opportunities—[include strengthening] the confidence in our network,” Grimes says. “This mission assurance entails protection of our information that is shared across the network and how we manage that information—especially in wartime.”

Grimes used his recent time in theater to improve his understanding of wartime networking and information technology issues. He spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan with the J-6, Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (SIGNAL, May 2005) and attended Gen. Shea’s J-6 conference in Qatar with J-6s from around the world. Two major issues emerged from this conference: cross-domain solutions for sharing information with coalition forces—including Iraqis and Afghans—and other government agencies, and spectrum operations. Grimes relates that U.S. forces are experiencing self-inflicted electromagnetic interference that hinders spectrum operations.

Grimes relates how, while in theater, he and Gen. Shea recognized the disconnects of the force’s network operations. So many organizations exist that coordination among them has not been done well, both at theater and at lower levels.

The rush of communication and information technologies into theater has created some difficulties when these technologies are not part of planned deployments or insertions. Grimes observes that some units go into theater with new applications that have not been tested in the enterprise, and this has caused disconnects. Supplemental funding has empowered some units to purchase commercial off-the-shelf applications, and today’s force has many people who have grown up “IT-centric.” These young experts are able to adapt or introduce technologies that eventually can cause interoperability problems. That has not been a major issue yet, he indicates.

Another mission of Grimes’ trip was to learn how the department was supporting the warfighter in theater—in particular, warfighter needs. He relates that he visited with troops at all levels ranging from senior officers to soldiers operating mortar batteries. He was impressed with the quality of U.S. military personnel in those two countries, adding that he observed junior officers doing an outstanding job working in senior positions in theater.

In Afghanistan Grimes worked with the Ministry of Communications, which has overall responsibility for that country’s national communications system that is being privatized. The U.S. military is assisting the ministry with the development of that national infrastructure, including cellular radio systems.

Grimes notes that one commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, USA, head of the 10th Mountain Division, raised the issue of cross-domain solutions for sharing information. With British forces taking over command of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, that challenge becomes more acute.

Gen. Freakley also suggested coordinating frequency allocations to prevent severe interference. In response to a U.S. Army request, the U.S. Navy has offered the Army more than 250 electronic warfare officers to work with Army frequency managers in theater, Grimes relates. Many Army systems are suffering degraded performance from electromagnetic interference.

Units deployed to Southwest Asia conduct a lot of interoperability testing before they arrive in theater, Grimes notes. He has heard few complaints at the lower levels. At the senior level, leaders expressed the desire for more information sharing with coalition forces. The department is working to provide that sharing, he relates, adding that it has established a special office for expediting cross-domain solutions. The department also has set up a frequency management office at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to help deal with frequency issues and to provide support quickly.

Grimes reports that the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) J-6, Brig. Gen. Susan Lawrence, USA, now has required that units rotating into theater are certified that their applications meet CENTCOM requirements. These units also must conduct operational exercises to prevent problems from emerging in theater.

“In my short tenure here, I am pretty satisfied that we have done what we are supposed to do for major IT programs—putting out the data strategies and policies, along with the overview of acquisition,” he says. “However, in any enterprise the size of ours, a lot of local units can do things,” he cautions. A system engineering capability recently put in place will help his office enforce interface control documents, but freelancing still may take place among the forces.

“When you’re in a wartime environment and lives are involved, you tend to look past some of that and allow it [individual technology insertion] to happen as long as it does not endanger somebody,” he observes. “As far as NII or the CIO role, we have not been affected by that.”

Many of the issues emerging in the war are reflected elsewhere in the Defense Department infosphere, although they do not necessarily define the issues facing the NII/CIO office. Grimes relates how his office is striving to synchronize all of the programs that constitute the network-centric world. These include the transport layer—the Global Information Grid–Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE), the services layer—the Network-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) and information assurance. That protection must be implemented on an enterprise level, he states.

The transport layer must be addressed from both space and ground, Grimes notes. The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) constitutes the ground environment, while satellites—particularly the Transformational Satellite Program—make up the space element.

A major effort headed by Deputy CIO Priscilla Guthrie is looking at information sharing, including implementing and improving cross-domain solutions. Other topics being addressed include identity management and biometrics. Grimes’ office has assembled an overall program that includes public key infrastructure (PKI), common access cards (CACs) and other identity management elements such as in Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-12.

Another vital issue is data. The department’s new data strategy (SIGNAL Magazine, January 2005) aims to improve the enterprise service. It will allow the department to share data across many domains with other government agencies as well as with allied and coalition partners.

Grimes points out that his predecessor, John Stenbit, established a plan for network-centric operations to serve as a way forward for the department. These network-centric operational concepts offer a long-term effect in the arena of force restructuring and in enabling information to be shared at the lowest level. “It is the way forward, and transformation is still very alive in the department,” Grimes assures.

“The global environment is changing, and we have to change with that,” he maintains. He cites the recent Quadrennial Defense Review (SIGNAL Connections, February 2006, “Defense Review Aims at Terrorism”) calling for 15 major information technology and command and control initiatives. The department is working now to make those a reality before the 2008 budget.

Grimes relates that he spent five years in the Pentagon as a Defense Department official. Reflecting on his current position, he says that he never envisioned the dynamics inherent in today’s activities and the tempo the department endures as it fights two wars during a force transformation.

“While there are visions of where we want to go, the devil is in the details when it comes to implementing the programs to support those visions,” Grimes states.

Technology Dynamics Complicate Contracts

The push to speed technologies to the warfighter in theater has not caused major difficulties with large, long-term programs, notes John G. Grimes, assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration and department chief information officer. However, some of the big communications and information system contracts have run into rough sledding because of technology changes. The problem can arise from both contractor actions and government inactions.

“Sometimes we don’t articulate the requirements clearly when we award contracts,” Grimes says. “The problem we have today is credibility with some contractors—whether they can deliver. It’s not just their fault; it’s as much government’s.

“We have a number of programs that are in trouble—Nunn-McCurdy,” Grimes allows, citing the 1982 congressional amendment that quantifies overspending in a defense contract. Under Nunn-McCurdy, if a contract suffers more than a 15 percent cost overrun, the Defense Department must notify Congress. When an overrun surpasses 25 percent, the department must justify the program’s continuation to Congress under specific guidelines. Grimes offers that government can cause a program to suffer overruns by not articulating the requirements clearly or by changing requirements. Similarly, the contractors may promise something that they cannot produce.

When programs enter the Nunn-McCurdy realm, they lose credibility with congressional staffers, with the Office of Management and Budget and with internal Defense Department officials, Grimes states. The large, highly complex programs typical of communications and information systems are among the most likely to suffer this kind of fate.

“It’s not finger-pointing—many times industry is just reactive to our statement of work, our contracts,” Grimes elaborates. “Many times though, industry cannot deliver what it said it could based on technologies.”

The department is changing its management process through programs such as Portfolio Capabilities Management. This effort, which originated in 2005 and was cited in the Quadrennial Defense Review, aims to adjust the front end of programs. The goal is to ensure that the department is not putting out requirements that a contractor cannot meet, Grimes says. Several more pilot programs are in the works.


Web Resource
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration (NII) and Department Chief Information Officer (CIO):

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