Time for a Changing of the Guard
GuardNet has served the Army National Guard well for nearly 20 years, but an upgrade is needed.
To remain relevant, the Army National Guard must completely divest GuardNet, its information technology network, and converge with the Army’s Department of Defense Information Network. This step will prevent the Guard from reverting to a strategic reserve and enable full-time staffing of tactical communication system readiness to completely participate in dynamic force employment as an operational reserve. It also will repurpose the resources allocated to managing this nondeployable network so tactical units can meet the faster deployment time lines needed in the new security environment.
During the past 18 years, GuardNet has grown into one of the U.S. Defense Department’s largest single accredited networks, spanning 11 time zones and more than 124,000 users. It provides telecommunication services to 54 joint forces headquarters and across 2,312 geographically separated Army National Guard locations.
The National Guard information technology professionals who built GuardNet deserve many accolades for its success. But times have changed, and the network built to serve the needs of a strategic reserve has outlived its usefulness, hindering the National Guard Bureau Chief’s vision for sustaining an operational National Guard.
The 2018 National Military Strategy outlines Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) “as the force management framework to prioritize preparedness for war while meeting current force demands in day-to-day operations.” Adversary actions below the level of armed conflict are shaping today’s security environment. The DFE is the framework by which the Defense Department will counter these actions and proactively shape the security environment by exploiting strategic opportunities.
The department measures the time window to exploit strategic opportunities in days and weeks not months. As this is the predominate way it will compete with Russia and China for the foreseeable future, the National Guard must sustain a readiness level that will allow it to remain relevant and able to react at the time of need.
As the DFE matures, the department will prioritize funding based on a unit’s ability to support competition. At the current staffing level, the Army National Guard cannot maintain the tactical information technology system readiness levels needed for brigade and battalion formations to participate in the DFE. It will need to make strategic choices to enable the necessary tactical system readiness levels required to meet the new framework.
The shift to the DFE will require commanders to sustain their tactical information technology formations and systems at a readiness rate far higher than at any time in the past 18 years of deployments. Divesting of GuardNet management responsibilities will enable the Army National Guard to increase tactical information technology system readiness and keep units relevant.
However, the Army National Guard cannot meet this challenge when more than 1,000 full-time information technology professionals plus hundreds of contractors are dedicated to maintaining a nondeployable garrison network at the expense of tactical information technology systems. These systems across the Army National Guard sit unused and leave the Guard ill-prepared to support training and operational missions, as leaders dedicate the same low-density specialties to maintain a nondeployable system. As a result, battalion and brigade staffs remain unfamiliar with the tools of their profession, spend an inordinate amount of time refamiliarizing themselves with the battle management systems when forced to use them, and develop work-around processes and technology that limit interoperability with service partners.
Recently, the Army National Guard rebranded GuardNet as DODIN-A(NG) to show alignment with the Army. But this change does not go far enough if state-level leadership continues to dedicate full-time staff resources to network enterprise center and garrison communication management responsibilities. Although state-level National Guard units can choose to take advantage of increased enterprise management capabilities at the national level to ensure their garrison information technology requirements are met, their administrators are highly resistant to the consolidation of these responsibilities. This is nothing new when undergoing major change, and these leaders have valid fears and interests that need to be addressed during transition, but maintaining the status quo is not an option.
First and foremost, several state leaders believe there will be an information technology service quality degradation and, in some cases, believe a few services will be lost all together. The primary driver of this fear is that many state-level network enterprise centers have fielded above-baseline services to their customers at the expense of modernization, life-cycle replacement and increased bandwidth for lower priority locations. If the state commanders feel the services are necessary, they will need mission funds to continue operations of the above-baseline services.
Other services that state-level network enterprise centers fear will be degraded include information technology service desks and touch labor. These services will certainly face short-term slowdowns during the transition as users learn new processes and modify their behavior. However, dedicating the Army National Guard’s limited full-time staff to call center operations and on-site help desks wastes resources when the Army’s enterprise help desk has excess capacity to handle the load. Companies all over the world successfully use remote information technology support services to manage their geographically separated workforce, and the National Guard has no requirement to maintain 56 different information technology service desks.
In addition, state leaders fear that losing GuardNet will degrade the state National Guards’ ability to support domestic operations. As with any change to operational plans, convergence with the Army network will require states to review and update support plans with changes to processes and capabilities. If a state National Guard has implemented above-baseline services to support domestic operations, it will need mission funding or supplemental support from the state government for continued service. However, states also must factor in the added benefit of increased information technology tactical system readiness and the direct training value that using organic deployable information technology systems provides during domestic operations.
Finally, state leaders fear that an all-Army garrison information technology network will relegate the Army National Guard to a second-class citizen status within the Army’s information technology service delivery model. This concern is not without merit. Passed into law in the National Defense Authorization Act for 1988, the entire existence of the Reserve Component Automation Systems, or RCAS, was partially promulgated by the Army’s failure to provide adequate automation capability to the Army National Guard. It took an act of Congress to force the Army to provide automation services to the Army National Guard.
Given this history, the major concern requires national-level leaders to continue stressing concurrent and proportional modernization across both weapon systems and force-generation capabilities.
As GuardNet converges with the Army’s information technology network, leaders at every level must have strategic patience as disruptions occur and information technology managers resolve issues with long-term solutions. Systems planners can avoid many of the issues by ensuring transparency in operations and reviewing all processes that support critical business functions. Additionally, leaders must concurrently build up previously under-resourced tactical units and adjust the roles and responsibilities of organizational members to account for changes. State-level adjutant generals must lead this change by ensuring their information technology workers receive the top-level support required when implementing changes of this magnitude.
GuardNet has evolved from a readiness enabler to a major readiness distraction; it is time to offload the responsibility. Centralizing management of garrison communications to an enterprise-level manager is critical to the Army National Guard’s ability to remain relevant under the DFE management framework. The precious full-time staffing resources currently dedicated to fixed garrison communications will have a far greater impact on increasing readiness of tactical systems. Reallocating resources will enable commanders and their National Guard combat formations to deploy at a time of need to exploit strategic opportunities that enable the U.S. military to remain ahead of adversaries. It is time to put a nail in the coffin of GuardNet and break the chain that is sure to tie the Army National Guard to future irrelevance.
Lt. Col. Daniel J. Crawford, ARNG, is a senior joint strategic analyst and integrator at the National Guard Bureau. He previously served as chief of the National Guard Regional Cyber Center in Arlington, Virginia.