Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, USA

September 2004
By Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, USA, Chief Information Officer/G-6, U.S. Army

Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?

The U.S. Army and the commercial sector are very much engaged in new and emerging technologies, and the service is extending the edge of the network. In the past, the Army network went to the tactical brigades through mobile subscriber equipment. With the deployment of the Joint Network Transport Capability–Spiral One (JNTC-S) providing some of the Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T) capabilities to one of the next units to deploy to Iraq (the 3rd Infantry Division), the Army will be extending the network down to the battalion level. And, now the information technology network reaches in some cases down to the platform—the soldier and/or the weapon.

Today’s networks are pervasive, but in many cases they are wide-open and vulnerable. The nonsecure Internet protocol router network (NIPRNET) and the secret Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) are embedded within the Internet. They either are leased circuits across an existing Internet or are attached in certain places within the Internet. With such pervasiveness of information, the first challenge is protecting that information and the other is ensuring that the right person gets the right access—identity authentication.

This is where biometrics, a leading-edge technology, has had an even greater growth. We are seeing more and more biometric devices in everyday use. For example, thumbprint and some voice recognition devices are being used today. At my Biometrics Fusion Center, we test a variety of them. But when market penetration reaches 15 percent, new major technologies grow exponentially. Biometric identification authentication is almost there, and it will see that tremendous exponential growth.

Industry has as much a need for biometrics as does the Army. As the commercial Internet becomes even more pervasive and reaches into every household—and people do online banking and online shopping—the same issue the military faces arises for the commercial sector, and that is the protection of information. So, biometric authentication will be used to identify whether an individual is the sole user or the requester of information as with online checking accounts.

The first step in biometric authentication is establishing who the individual really is. In its next iteration, biometrics will become role-based. This step not only establishes that “Maj. Jane Doe” is whom she claims she is when she signs in, but it also will determine that it really is Jane Doe, and because she is a major and an aviator, she gets access to pertinent information. We are starting to do this with Army Knowledge Online (AKO), the Army portal intranet. When a user signs into AKO, it will be role-based. The look and content will be focused upon the individual’s roles—female, major, aviator, airborne, assigned to the Pentagon. The individual will begin getting information customized to the user based on his or her role and identity, and it will be validated in the future through some biometric technology.

Extending biometrics within the business infrastructure or the sustaining base is not really the hard part for the Army, although it has to focus on interoperability through an adoption of standards. The hard part is extending that base in the tactical domain where there is limited bandwidth, limited power and probably no permanent connectivity to the network. That is our challenge. When the Army is in strange places operating in harsh environments with only periodic kinds of connectivity, how can it ensure that the right person is really on the right weapon system getting the right information? Then, when that requirement is extended further, it is imperative to ensure that only a particular group of soldiers is authorized to use a particular weapon. With the advanced biometric approach, if that weapon is lost or left behind and the bad guys get it, they cannot use the weapon. This is where we really want to go.

At the end of the day, biometrics should actually get to the point where its use is seamless, interoperable, easy and instantaneous for the user. The Army can and will get to that point, but it cannot do that without a lot of work. So the Army begins by testing different technologies such as fingerprints, iris scans and voiceprints, and then it examines combinations of biometric technologies for enhanced security applications. If successful, biometrics would become useful in the Army’s extreme environments such as when warfighters are wearing mission oriented protective posture (MOPP) gear. The biometric system would look through the lens and positively authenticate an individual’s identification.

While challenges remain, the Army continues to extend the edge of biometric application into the tactical arena. Ultimately, it’s all about information—accessing information, sharing information and protecting information vital to the warfighter.