Maryann Lawlor

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Maryann Lawlor
Director of Communications
Truth is, I became a writer because in high school, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t know. But I figured that, while I couldn’t commit to being a doctor or teacher for the rest of my life, I could write about doctors and teachers and cars and housework…oh, how the list goes on…and, OK, so Watergate was really big at the time.

But then, life happened. I met my husband during my first week at Marquette University and we married five years later. In 1983, we had our first of two sons, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom. In 1992, I answered a classified ad for a publication assistant at AFCEA. I’d been out of the work force for nine years, and a “little thing” called personal computers had the nerve to move into offices while I wasn’t looking. But I couldn’t have landed in a better place. Rob Robinson, SIGNAL’s editor in chief at the time, allowed me to write for SIGNAL Magazine from time to time…and I learned. Since then, I’ve worked on a Mac at the office and a PC at home. I’ve had the opportunity to write about artificial intelligence, UAVs, satellites…oh how the list goes on.

Sometimes, people are impressed when I tell them I’m a journalist. I explain that, like most people, I hate to write…I like to have written. What I do enjoy is interviewing people who are passionate about what they do. And there are no more dedicated people in this world than members of the military.

My Recent Content:

Robots Need Tactics, Too
February 16, 2018
Posted by Maryann Lawlor
Technology is just the first step for effective swarming.
  • Northrop Grumman’s team is launching an open architecture testbed and seeking participants to create and test their own swarm-based tacking on the platform as part of DARPA’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program.
     Northrop Grumman’s team is launching an open architecture testbed and seeking participants to create and test their own swarm-based tacking on the platform as part of DARPA’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is moving into the first development phase of its OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program, a capability that will empower dismounted troops to control scores of unmanned air and ground vehicles simultaneously. Once fully evolved, the technology will provide small-unit infantry forces with small, unmanned aircraft and ground systems to support diverse missions in urban areas. The program also seeks to integrate modern swarm tactics and leverage emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming.

Tall structures, tight spaces and limited line of sight in urban canyons constrain military communications, mobility and tactics. These challenges increase in enemy territory where troops can’t rely on supply chains, infrastructure and previous knowledge of local conditions and potential threats.

However, robots can perform missions such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and building clearance effectively in these settings. Unmanned air and ground vehicles have proved beneficial, but their value to warfighters would increase vastly if troops could control swarms of 250 or more robotic units in unison.

The prime bottleneck to achieving this goal is not the robotic technology, which is becoming increasingly capable and affordable. Rather, U.S. military forces currently lack the technologies to manage and interact with such swarms and the means to quickly develop and share swarm tactics suitable for application in diverse, evolving urban situations.

To address this issue, Northrop Grumman Corporation will launch its first open architecture testbed as part of the OFFSET program’s first phase. The company leads a team that includes Intelligent Automation Inc. and the University of Central Florida’s Interactive Computing Experiences Research Cluster of Excellence. It is seeking participants to create and test their own swarm-based tactics on the platform.

As a swarm systems integrator, Northrop Grumman will design, develop and deploy a swarm-system, open-based architecture for swarm technologies in both a game-based environment and physical testbed. The team will produce tactics and technologies to test on the architecture and engage a wider development and user audience through rapid technology development exercises known as “swarm sprints.”

DARPA launched the OFFSET program in late 2016. The program seeks to develop and demonstrate more than 100 operationally relevant swarm tactics that groups of unmanned air and/or ground systems numbering more than 100 robots could use. These swarm tactics for large teams of unmanned assets would help improve force protection, firepower and precision affects capabilities. Program developers plan to offer frequent opportunities for engagement with anticipated end users in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps and would share successfully tested swarm tactics with them on a rolling basis.

To accomplish these goals, OFFSET seeks to develop an active swarm tactics development ecosystem and an open systems architecture to support it. Plans call for an ecosystem and architecture with an advanced human-swarm interface; a real-time, networked virtual environment to support a physics-based swarm tactics game to explore, evolve and evaluate swarm maneuvers; and a community-driven swarm tactics exchange.

The program intends to demonstrate its technologies through frequent live experiments with various unmanned air and ground platforms. Every six months, operational vignettes of progressively increasing complexity will challenge both the swarm architecture and the developed swarm tactics across numerous technological and operational test variables, such as swarm size, proportion of air and ground platforms, and mission duration.

“With the technologies and tactics to be developed under OFFSET, we anticipate achieving a deeper understanding of how large numbers of increasingly autonomous air and ground robots can be leveraged to benefit urban warfighters,” Timothy Chung, DARPA program manager, said.

“We aim to provide the tools to quickly generate swarm tactics, evaluate those swarm tactics for effectiveness and integrate the best swarm tactics into field operations. If we’re successful, this work could also bring entirely new scalable, dynamic capabilities to the battlefield, such as distributed perception, robust and resilient communications, dispersed computing and analytics, and adaptive collective behaviors,” he added.

Vern Boyle, vice president, advanced technologies, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, believes that cognitive autonomy could transform all defense and security systems. “We are applying cutting-edge technologies in robotics, robot autonomy, machine learning and swarm control to ultimately enhance our contributions to the warfighter,” he said.

To participate in Northrop Grumman’s swarm sprints, visit the Swarm Tactics Exchange Portal.

Agency Facilitates Cyber Risk Assessments
January 25, 2018
By Maryann Lawlor
Mission partners receive help with compliance.
  • While the migration to the Joint Regional Security Stacks will transition ownership of security architecture from the Air Force to DISA, the squadron will retain operational control of traffic flow for Air Force networks. U.S. courtesy photo
     While the migration to the Joint Regional Security Stacks will transition ownership of security architecture from the Air Force to DISA, the squadron will retain operational control of traffic flow for Air Force networks. U.S. courtesy photo

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) now offers service product packages to mission-partner authorizing officials to provide a holistic view of their information systems risk posture. The packages help ensure compliance for mission partners who have programs and systems hosted within the DISA computing ecosystem.

Control Correlation Identifiers (CCIs) within the service packages allow high-level policy framework requirements to be decomposed and associated with low-level security settings to determine compliance with the objectives of that specific security control.

“We are providing mission partners options based on their requirements and elected services. We are also saving mission partners time and resources by leveraging our tested, validated and compliant CCIs,” explains Stephanie Watt, chief of the cyber controls section, Computing Ecosystem’s Cyber Services Line of Business, in a DISA statement.

For example, mission partners on virtual operating environments have an option to select Service Package 4 or 5, which is “secure at will.” This enables DISA to make changes based on mission partner-directed configurations and the ability to secure at will without mission partner approval. The agency will adhere to the change management process and make changes during the scheduled monthly maintenance downtime.

The service product packages are in addition to the services the mission partner inherits from the DISA Data Center and Enterprise Infrastructure Backbone Network Risk Management Framework (RMF) packages. The agency also created packages to provide a foundation for mission partners to share, inherit and operate within the RMF.

Mission partners can initiate the inheritance process by submitting an RMF requirements form via email to the DISA Computing Ecosystem Cyber Services Line of Business. Once the form is validated, mission partners will request and receive inheritance via the Enterprise Mission Assurance Support Service, a web-based application that automates the RMF process.

For more information about the RMF or the service product packages, please visit DISA’s Risk Management Framework customer portal. Common Access Card required.

Radio Enhances Situational Awareness
December 20, 2017
By Maryann Lawlor
Small tactical terminals designed with size, weight, power and cost constraints in mind.
  • The reduced size of the STT provides size, weight and power-constrained platforms with the same Link 16 access as legacy Link 16 terminals but at one-third the size and weight.
     The reduced size of the STT provides size, weight and power-constrained platforms with the same Link 16 access as legacy Link 16 terminals but at one-third the size and weight.

While significant improvements in range, speed and lethality of kinetic weapons have been made in recent years, the increased ability to engage an adversary has far outpaced the ability to identify friend from foe. This competing dynamic has contributed to slower progress in the expansion of situational awareness and poses long-standing challenges associated with the fog of war. As a result of this lag, it is increasingly important to arm individual platforms with multiple sources of communications to boost both lethality and survivability.

Although designing and building innovative solutions could address this challenge, budget realities and the urgency of ongoing operations have placed more emphasis on improvements to existing platforms. One approach is to equip current air, ground and sea platforms with the ability to achieve the situational awareness Link 16 can provide. However, taking advantage of this predominantly line-of-sight waveform for tactical data links in existing systems involves internal trades in size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C).

To address this challenge, ViaSat Incorporated and the Harris Corporation developed the Small Tactical Terminal (STT) KOR-24A. This two-channel radio is designed to meet the needs of users who have SWaP-C constraints but need simultaneous access to Link 16 and either wideband waveforms or legacy communications pathways, including very high frequency and ultrahigh frequency.

The STT KOR-24A enables users to obtain tactical information from a ground network and pass it to and from Link 16, creating seamless situational awareness and a common operational picture between air and ground forces. The radio small form also allows SWaP-constrained platforms with legacy VHF/UHF radios a path to Link 16. For example, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ground vehicles, small boats and small aircraft now can access friendly and enemy air and ground situational data and provide secure and reliable target data to the network.

This flexibility recently helped the U.S. Army upgrade the latest version of its AH- 64E Apache helicopter. The STT KOR-24A enables the helicopter to switch waveforms and network connections on the fly via Link 16 on one channel and soldier radio waveform on the second channel, merge disparate networks, and deliver situational awareness information as a mission unfolds.

The increased situational awareness and command and control capabilities two communications channels provide can address specific mission requirements, including direct communications with ground networks, which decreases the likelihood of fratricide incidents.

The STT KOR-24A’s ability to carry civilian voice and digital radio frequencies also enables organizations such as the U.S. National Guard to communicate with local organizations during disaster response and other homeland defense and security situations.

In addition to meeting the need for simultaneous voice and data communications, the terminal addresses the limited space on legacy platforms. New communications equipment must fit into the previous system’s location, which can cause weight and power issues if it is heavier and more power-hungry than its predecessor. Because the STT KOR-24A is a single radio with two channels, the U.S. Defense Department can remove an existing radio and replace it with additional networking capability without extra power and weight costs.

While the STT was developed to meet the department’s needs for a multichannel radio, it was not developed as part of a formal program. The radio is centered on a commercial model and best practices can be adapted to meet strict performance and environmental requirements, while ensuring a cost-effective development and support structure. Warfighter feedback allows for quick modifications to match the military services’ needs. Terminals in the field can also be upgraded at a substantially faster rate than the normal acquisition process.

As new features are developed, the technical baseline of the radio is adaptable. Customer-driven enhancements include upgrades to support new beyond-line-of-sight waveforms as well as a variety of new Link 16 capabilities enabling broader operations on protected participation group nets, adding another layer of security.

With government cryptographic modernization efforts, security enhancements will have a programmable approach and will be certified and accomplished via software download as well.

More information about the STT KOR-24A is available online.

Social Media Proves a Lifeline for Harvey Victims

When stranded flood victims could not get through to 911 during Hurricane Harvey, they posted on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to reach out for help. Hashtags such as #SOSHouston and #SOSHarvey were used to flag citizen rescuers.

In a first, the U.S. Coast Guard’s social media team saw trapped survivors turn to social media during the coastal Texas storm. As the number of posts spiked, the Coast Guard National Command Center (NCC) began to receive calls from concerned citizens who also noticed the pleas for help on these platforms.

To handle the surge of phone calls and social media requests, the social media team, the NCC and the information technology staff of the Coast Guard Base National Capital Region worked rapidly to establish, literally overnight, an effective around-the-clock call center.

The Coast Guard Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information Technology team immediately suspended restrictions on accessing social media websites on standard Coast Guard workstations, allowing call center watchstanders to respond to those in need. The watchstanders entered data into the Homeland Security Information Network, which federal, state, local, private-sector and other partners use to manage operations. Then they took the information from the public and sent it to the Texas Emergency Operations Center, a web-based emergency management tool, or the Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston to dispatch rescue resources. Even as emergency calls in Texas dwindled, the Coast Guard kept the call center running in case it was needed during the hurricanes that followed.

Vice Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, USCG, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for mission support, says the storms showed that federal agencies need a protocol for how to use social media in rescue and response situations. She also points out that apps such as Uber and Waze have capabilities that could benefit urban search and rescue work.

December 1, 2017
By Maryann Lawlor
Defense Department Flies Into Commercial Cloud

Defense Information Systems Agency mission partners will soon be able to take advantage of cloud computing and storage at up to 70 percent cost savings. The agency’s milCloud 2.0, a commercial-grade private cloud for defense customers scheduled to achieve initial operational capability next month, spreads out costs among many customers and makes infrastructure upgrades more affordable. MilCloud 2.0 also will offer customers much-needed agility, an important feature for warfighters who must respond dynamically to ever-changing threats.

Many U.S. Defense Department organizations are familiar with the agency’s first cloud computing effort, milCloud 1.0, which launched in 2013. The agency, also known as DISA, built, operated and managed an on-premise cloud solution based on commercial technology.

The extraordinary amount of customer interest in milCloud 1.0 and the need to take full advantage of cloud computing advances were two reasons that DISA moved on version 2.0.

Before the first keystroke of writing the request for proposal (RFP), the DISA Cloud Portfolio team spoke with numerous government agencies using cloud capabilities, including the intelligence community, and reached out to industry with several requests for information. This input helped team members understand not only best practices but also the perks and pitfalls of cloud computing in real-life environments.

John Hale, chief of DISA’s Cloud Portfolio, explains that a lowest-price technically acceptable contracting approach was not used. But the goal was to acquire the best value for the government.

In June, a $498 million contract to support milCloud 2.0 was awarded to CSRA, Falls Church, Virginia. The company’s experience in providing private cloud solutions to government and industry customers demonstrated that its solutions would work well for DISA’s mission partners, Hale states.

MilCloud 2.0 includes two distinct elements: infrastructure and contract, explains Donald Robinson, chief technology officer for CSRA’s defense group. In terms of infrastructure, it is a commercial cloud that allows users to go to a portal, acquire the cloud computing capabilities they need and be billed by the hour. “Its uniqueness is that it’s actually going to be deployed in military bases under military authority—military protection. It is a cloud service directly connected to the Defense Department’s unclassified network and eventually to its classified network,” Robinson says.

From a contract perspective, DISA built on lessons learned from milCloud 1.0 and set the foundation for the next eight years and beyond for how the Defense Department should acquire cloud services that fit within department, financial management and auditing regulations. DISA has addressed the acquisition and security challenges the department has faced with moving to cloud, Robinson says.

MilCloud 2.0 will roll out in two phases. When the first phase is complete, mission partners will be able to access the nonsecure Internet protocol router network (NIPRNET) for official use only capabilities. Installation of these capabilities began in October with the first set of servers and nodes established in several data centers in Montgomery, Alabama, and Oklahoma City. Initial operational capability (IOC) of the first phase is scheduled for next month.

The second phase, which is expected to begin immediately after NIPRNET reaches IOC, will enable mission partners to access the secret Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET). This capability is expected to be available at the beginning of fiscal year 2019.

MilCloud 2.0 differs from its predecessor in a number of ways. First, it offers what Hale calls elasticity. Mission partners will be able to scale up or down their usage as operational requirements change. Second, unlike the milCloud 1.0 cost model in which mission partners pay a set monthly fee regardless of usage, milCloud 2.0 is utility-based. Partners only pay for what they use. Third, CSRA’s security model is built around cloud computing.

Hale emphasizes this point. “Cloud providers spent a lot of time over the past five to 10 years securing their solutions because in the commercial world if they failed to secure the data, they’d lose money. In our world, if we fail to secure the data, we have a lot more at risk. By bringing cloud computing capability on-site at our facilities, we are able to leverage both the data security and the physical security,” he explains.

Robinson agrees that security is a key component of milCloud 2.0. “There have been a lot of challenges in interpreting security compliance and how we actually secure Defense Department workloads. We not only offer a cloud that is in compliance, but we also have added additional services to relieve some of that burden and the ambiguity of interpretation for the [military] services. So it’s going to make it quicker to achieve your security management objectives,” he states.

CSRA also will offer migration support for legacy systems and applications. “It’s one thing to offer the access, but often there are challenges in moving a legacy system into a cloud. A lot of decisions need to be made,” Robinson explains. “Sometimes we can do what we call ‘lift and shift.’ You can just take a workload and move it to the cloud. Sometimes you have to refactor an application; sometimes rebuild or retire an application; sometimes just shut it off. The contract enables us to help vendors move to this cloud as efficiently as possible.”

Although milCloud 2.0 will offer significant savings, Hale acknowledges that it is not a perfect fit for every application. “There are certain workloads that simply don’t work in a cloud model, mainly because they’d have to be re-engineered or redesigned to take advantage of the cloud, and there’s no money in the budget to modernize. For example, high data input-output capabilities, mostly around enterprise resource planning systems, take a lot of time, and we made a lot of investments in hardware to run those,” he explains.

Other challenges have included high demand for quick delivery. “We awarded the contract in June, and everybody in the department wants it today,” Hale says. “Making a request fit into a traditional acquisition system, where we have to move money around, has been a challenge. We are working with our financial management team to streamline as many of the processes as possible because transferring funds is the long pole in the tent when it comes to capabilities like this.”

MilCloud 2.0 is being delivered through the Defense Working Capital Fund, minimizing the time it takes to supply the capabilities to warfighters, he adds.

Now, cloud computing is at what Robinson calls an inflection point. “Cloud computing is not new. What is new is we’re at an inflection point—particularly in the government market—in migrating to the cloud,” he says. “What took the government so long to do it? Why is the Defense Department not already there? A lot of it goes back to the security and the risk-taking. Up until now—last year and this year—it took a lot of analysis from a policy perspective. That policy is now clear, and we understand those security requirements.”

In addition to clarifying policy, CSRA is addressing the hurdles back-office functions often pose. The company is providing a single portal for customers to procure what they need with well-defined back-end processes to make purchases in accordance with acquisition regulations for all the services more efficiently, Robinson says.

Also, milCloud 2.0 will be deployed on Defense Department bases and tied to their networks as a fundamental part of the department’s ecosystem. “That is important in terms of risk management,” Robinson explains. “Some applications, particularly those that are mission-specific, like command and control applications, are mission-critical and must be on Defense Department premises, where they can be protected by military personnel and subject only to the jurisdiction of the Defense Department.

“That’s another advantage to buying from CSRA,” he continues. “For some of those workloads, that is going to be a critical component in the overall risk calculus. There are cybersecurity risks that have to be vetted, but then there’s also operational risks, and that’s one of the reasons milCloud is so important. It reduces a lot of that operational risk so you can get the benefits of the cloud. You can get the cost benefits, you can get the additional features, you can get the continuous innovation, but you can reduce your operational risk or maintain your operational risk posture and not have to introduce new operational risk of the other public clouds.”

Hale says he views milCloud 2.0 as a completely new way of supporting both warfighters and the Defense Department overall. “We’re going to revolutionize the way the department does computing and storage,” he says. “We will have the ability to dynamically spin up computer capabilities. The ability to scale and change based on mission demands on a rapid basis revolutionizes the way we’ve done computing. Threats change on a dynamic basis and frequency in a way never seen in the past, and capabilities like milCloud 2.0 are putting the necessary pieces in place, so [warfighters] can change their mission dynamically based on the threats.”

December 1, 2017
By Maryann Lawlor
DISA looks to elevate cost savings and capabilities with milCloud 2.0.

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