DISA Grows as Network Centricity Matures

May 2008
By Kent R. Schneider

We all know the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) as the agency that grew out of its predecessor—the Defense Communications Agency (DCA)—to manage a full range of information technology systems and services for the Defense Department. But more than a name change took place since that transition. The DISA of today bears little resemblance to the organization that took on this expanded mission.

In this month in 1960, DISA was born as the DCA to manage the Defense Communications System (DCS), which was a consolidation of the strategic communications facilities of the military services. In the 1970s, it added essential communications and the Military Satellite Communications Office. The 1970s also brought DCA’s assumption of the global joint command and control mission with responsibility for the Worldwide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS). The 1980s brought the Joint Tactical Command, Control and Communications (C3) Agency to promote C3 interoperability, along with the creation of the Joint Interoperability Test Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to provide interoperability testing and certification.

The agency became the center of change in 1991 with its redesignation as DISA and assumption of the new role of managing information systems for the Defense Department. Defense Management Report Decision (DMRD) 918 created the Defense Information Infrastructure—now known as the Global Information Grid—and consolidated defense computing into 16 megacenters, which have evolved to the six defense enterprise computing centers DISA operates today.

In the early 1990s, DISA implemented the Global Command and Control System (GCCS), replacing WWMCCS, and the Global Combat Support System (GCSS). As a result, for the first time, the Defense Department had the ability to bring together a joint common operational picture that warfighters could obtain in near real time at the operational level. In the mid-1990s, Lt. Gen. Al Edmonds, USAF (Ret.), then DISA director, made the vision of GCCS a reality by working with the Joint Staff and the unified commands to implement the capability and make it a part of the way the commands operate.

Under another former DISA director, Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege Jr., USAF (Ret.), DISA focused sharply on service to the warfighter. It took the lead in promoting network-centric operations and in building on what was started with the GCCS. The Joint Task Force–Computer Network Operations—now with its mission expanded as the Joint Task Force–Global Network Operations—was created under the U.S. Strategic Command. DISA was providing value-added network services globally and within every theater in the world. The agency had moved heavily into information assurance. Defense Department information sharing, with a focus on the full spectrum of mission-related information, had begun. In this period, DISA was dramatically adding bandwidth and services, introducing streaming video from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other sources, as well as integrating intelligence to an extent never experienced before.

Under the current director, Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom, USAF, DISA has continued—perhaps even increased—its momentum. The agency is leading the way in the movement from a systems focus to a services focus, leveraging Web 2.0 technologies and implementing an enterprise approach over the largest enterprise in the world.

The Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) initiative will provide common enterprise services across the Defense Department. This separation of applications from data makes data visible to decision makers globally to an unprecedented extent. DISA is expanding the scope of services and making the infrastructure more robust to support those services on a global basis. A central piece of new capability is the Network Enabled Command and Control (NECC) program centered in DISA.

The agency is working very hard to deliver networking and services to the edge of the network, whether by fiber or mobile means. DISA also is committed to providing the best value to its customers, and surveys show it is competing with—and often exceeding—the value proposition of world-class communications service providers.

Anyone who has not done business with DISA recently—or has been on another planet and has not heard Gen. Croom speak about DISA, what it is doing and its plans for the future—needs to engage this great organization. One way might be through the DISA Customer Conference, which is partnering with the AFCEA Technology Showcase and takes place in Orlando, Florida, this month.

The men and women of DISA do an incredible job every day. I have only touched on how they are delivering an amazing range of services to the Defense Department, the national security community and the nation. Beyond the services these people provide, they are a group of thought leaders and agents for change in the very dynamic world in which we now find ourselves. Just be thankful they are on our side.

Enjoyed this article? SUBSCRIBE NOW to keep the content flowing.