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DISA’s Modernized C2 Systems Enter Web-Based Era

The agency will extend web access to the classified network.

In a major effort to modernize its command and control systems, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is making its premier systems available, adding web-based access, artificial intelligence and machine learning and providing a host of other improvements. The new capabilities offer warfighting commanders easy, efficient access to critical data and contribute to the Defense Department’s move toward data-centric, joint all-domain command and control capabilities.

As background, DISA’s Global Command and Control System-Joint (GCCS-J) includes the soon-to-be-retired Joint Operation Planning and Execution System and its modern replacement, the Joint Planning and Execution System (JPES). GCCS-J, pronounced Geeks-Jay, is a modular, software-based system that offers a common operational picture of the battlespace for joint and multinational operations. It is installed on the Defense Department’s non-classified and classified networks known as the Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network and the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network, as well as the Joint Warfighting Intelligence Communication System. Located at more than 50 physical sites, it is available on land, in the air and on the sea and is accessible to select international partners.

“The GCCS-J essentially is used by the joint command and control (C2) community and allows us to maintain situational awareness of our joint operations, making C2 decisions informed by near real-time observations. It helps protect the force from adversaries and friendly fire,” explained Caroline Bean, who leads DISA’s Joint Enterprise Services Directorate. “We have a common operational picture also known as COP, and that essentially provides a picture of the battlespace of the U.S. coalition and our enemy forces in support of our joint and multinational Guard, air, maritime and space operations for the U.S. and our coalition partners.”

It provides tactical decision aids that other applications, including cost management and situational awareness systems, can use. Among other critical data sources, it gives missile warning information from the Integrated Broadcast Service, intelligence from an array of systems including the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Modernized Integrated Database, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear data. “That has the ability to essentially model for us any hazard areas or effects and to receive and generate reports for warning affected areas,” Bean said.

DISA provided a web-based version of GCCS-J last year, which allows the United States and select foreign countries to easily access data from anywhere without installing the application at each site. In early March, the agency released version 6.1, which added an ability to track nearly 1 million objects—think moving objects of military interest, such as tanks, trains, trucks, aircraft, ships and individuals. Previously the system could track mere thousands of moving targets.

“This release primarily focused on the infrastructure update to ensure that GCCS-J can track close to a million objects in motion, which is huge. It broadens the scope of how much data we’re able to interact with and essentially allows us to expand on how much data we are able to correlate and infuse in order to get decisions out the door,” Bean offered. 

Next, DISA is on track to bring JPES online by the end of calendar year 2024, possibly sooner. Initially, it will run alongside the predecessor Joint Operational Planning and Execution System, which will be taken offline in the following months. JPES helps define missions, identify units to be mobilized, plan deployments and determine what cargo they will need.

“JPES is the system that we use for the planners to identify the units of the force that are required to execute a joint operation. It does the coordination and the execution of the deployment into and out of those joint operation areas,” Bean noted. “It supports all of the Defense Department deliberate planning, any crisis action planning, allocation, execution, global force management processes, and then, of course, the global command and control mission. If a crisis happens anywhere in the world, and the U.S. military needs to respond with the deployment of any forces to assist or counteract the crises, JPES is really the system that’s used to pull all of that together.”

Unlike its predecessor, JPES also will be available via web browser. “JPES is in development right now—I want to kind of make that clear—and we plan on tracking that delivery at the end of the [calendar] year in 2024. So then, what we’ll do eventually, when JPES gets released, we’ll be able to sunset [Joint Operation Planning and Execution System] a few months after that,” Bean reported, adding that the agency must first ensure the effective migration of data.  

The enhancements balance cybersecurity needs and usability, Bean said, and allow access from a variety of devices. “Cybersecurity is a big thing. There’s always that balance of user experience and cybersecurity, and we’re always playing that balancing act, but we were able to do that with the user interface,” she explained. “It can run on desktops, tablets, even a smartphone using the same code base that we put out for JPES and our own application. It also reduces some of the data duplication and the point-to-point interfaces while remaining interoperable, still with multiple systems.

Both the modernized GCCS-J and JPES are designed to be modular and are globally deployed. With web access, GCCS-J enhancements are accessible to international partners as soon as they are available to U.S. forces. Some have access through foreign military sales agreements. Others can exchange certain command and control data through GCCS-J interfaces with applicable coalition networks. “Those system connections are already made with our coalition partners. So, the moment we put it out there, it’s actually up for grabs for whoever needs it.”

Development, security and operations, or DevSecOps, are essential to DISA’s command and control modernization efforts and will be expanded. “I’m going to be expanding DevSecOps across the entire portfolio that I have. It provides the ability to host our data and our capabilities on a common platform, all the way from the inception of the application to production,” she explained. “It’s essentially sustaining us and getting the latest capabilities and the latest technologies out there quickly to our warfighters.”

Her team intends to create a DevSecOps process for the classified environment, she added. “We’ve been talking a lot about the unclassified side. Currently, the DevSecOps pipeline doesn’t exist on the classified, so that’s going to be something that you’ll probably be seeing coming in the next year. It just streamlines that process for us.”

A soldier in Germany helps set up a tactical command post to test communications. The Defense Information Systems Agency’s modernization efforts should enhance command and control to the tactical edge. Credit: Sgt. Patrick Jubrey/U.S. Army
A soldier in Germany helps set up a tactical command post to test communications. The Defense Information Systems Agency’s modernization efforts should enhance command and control to the tactical edge. Credit: Sgt. Patrick Jubrey/U.S. Army

Bean touted the importance of the Defense Department’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability contract vehicle, which allows the purchase of cloud capabilities at all classifications levels and all the way to the tactical edge. “I sit on and depend on the infrastructure and the tactical edge to go out all the way as close as possible to our warfighters and our joint forces. The only way to do that is to make sure that we’ve got the right transport and cloud capabilities out there.”

Cloud capabilities are imperative to providing services to the edge, she added. “This really becomes critical to ensuring that my applications and my enterprise services like GCCS-J and JPES and other services I have—like mobility and the collaboration solution—can go as far to the edge as possible. Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability really opens the doors allowing us to go out there and actually land those services close to home for them when they’re out in the field.”

DISA’s approach of primarily adopting commercial technologies also adds artificial intelligence and its sister technology, machine learning. “A lot of the enterprise services and the technologies that we are adopting ... I’m noticing that a lot of industry is actually embedding and integrating [artificial intelligence] and [machine learning] into their technology,” she said.

The new technologies are largely mature, but their integration remains challenging. “The integration, I think, of all of these technologies, the concepts, the changes to some of the policies, some of the resourcing, the acquisition aspect of things, that’s still a major challenge across all of the Department of Defense. Our technologies are moving very fast, and we now need to make sure our policies and our resources actually follow up with that.”


Countries with Some Access to GCCS-J

New Zealand
South Korea
The Netherlands
United Kingdom

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