Army Is Marching Into Challenging Future

August 23, 2011
By Rita Boland

The CIO/G-6 of the U.S. Army outlines plans for the future approach to soldiers' networks during her keynote address at LandWarNet. The U.S Army signal community is preparing for budget cuts and a drawdown of personnel that includes reducing the number of contractors supporting the military branch by 30 percent without any replacement by military or government employees. However, with the Army's current plan only the officer corps would face reduction through means other than attrition; more drastic cut mandates could alter future decisions. To make sure soldiers still can access the connectivity and data they will require, leaders are examining new ways to approach modernizing the network because, as Army Chief Information Office/G-6 Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence said in her lunchtime LandWarNet address, "The issue is we've not done this before. We've not been at war when we tried to drawdown our forces." Gen. Lawrence outlined several planned actions to enhance services to soldiers through their networks. Advancing common access cards to the point that soldiers truly can use authorized machines anywhere to receive their data is one major push; others include enabling global collaboration, providing access at the point of need and ensuring a capable, reliable, trusted network. Driving the work are what she calls the three Ds: direct, discipline and draconian. The Army must direct standards and configurations, have set and measured metrics (discipline) and if necessary be draconian in execution. She touted the Afghan Mission Network as one of the biggest current game changers in place for the military. Featuring qualities the Army is seeking across its connections, the network enables units in the state preparing to deploy access to all the latest operational information and intelligence. And when they arrive, they will still be able to connect to updated information, instead of pulling data off machines loaded weeks earlier. To provide cutting-edge technologies, however, the Army will have to reevaluate its approach to technology. "We can't chase [the industry curve]," Gen. Lawrence said. "We'll never get the funding. We have to just eliminate it." They key to that, she added, is the common operating environment. The general emphasized that the Army no longer can turn the network upside down to accommodate new advances. Another change involves putting an end to using soldiers on the battlefield as the test bed for technologies. Instead, the Army is hosting Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range. Soldiers there evaluate industry solutions then inform leaders what works and what they like so the Army can make better purchasing decisions. Industry can participate by submitting applications to the Army after the service branch releases what capabilities it wants for a given event. Gen. Lawrence said an evaluation of one system at a recent NIE resulted in a program change that produced enough savings to fund future evaluations for the next 10 years. The NIEs are scheduled to take place twice each year. Because technology advances faster than procurement, Gen. Lawrence outlined an approach that will look at the capability sets necessary for the next units deploying, but not far beyond them. Current projections will focus on 2013-2014 deployments without buying the same pieces for those headed overseas in 2017. "They'll want something else," she explained. Even with that plan, the Army still has its sights on the future. The general identified several technologies she sees as key for the network in 2020 including optical infrastructure, voice over Internet protocol and video streaming. " going to be the new voice," she stated. Security also will continue to be critical, with the Army building it into every touch point.
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