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DISA Ramps Up Capabilities To Meet Increased Operational Demands

Velocity of action is key in evolving and transforming capabilities.

In times of global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is working to make sure the U.S. Defense Department’s communications networks are running securely to provide leaders and warfighters with the information they need.

A key aspect of this is velocity of action, using innovation and initiative to gain an advantage over adversaries, DISA officials told SIGNAL Magazine Editor in Chief Robert Ackerman during the first of a series of TechNet Cyber 2022 webinars.

Part of applying this concept to managing the Defense Department’s communications is understanding how new technologies and changes in the operating environment can impact operations as a whole, said Don Means Jr., director of DISA’s Operations and Infrastructure Center.

Noting that information technology is far from perfect, Means said a key consideration for his directorate’s personnel is being sensitive to changes in the network and responding to user needs

“I think velocity of action to win also applies as we think about how we're going to evolve these capabilities and even transform them. So [our] part of understanding requirements and understanding the story of combatant commands helps us understand what capabilities we need to deliver and how we need to plan to deliver those capabilities to get ahead of it in the future,” Means said

Early warning about cyber operations and other threats to the network is another important component of DISA’s approach to velocity of action.

“Time is not always our best friend, so we need to buy it where we can, and we want a partner to get information sooner so we can act on it sooner,” said Joseph Wassel, DISA’s Cyberspace Operations Directorate executive.

Wassel noted that the velocity part of the strategy is understanding the impact of changes on the warfighter/customer experience and putting those desires and needs into perspective to serve them better.

A “search to fix” capability is also important for DISA. “We are the 911 for the network, for the department,” Wassel said. Some problems may not be in the agency’s purview, but when they are, it’s necessary to understand Defense Department customers’ end-to-end requirements, own any problems and drive a solution “even if it is outside the bounds of the DISA operational area,” he added.

The goal is to prevent incidents that can delay or degrade operations. To do so, DISA works with the services and partner agencies to proactively solve such issues before they impact warfighter missions.

To Wassel, velocity and winning “means that our customers are not sensors, and our customers are not feeling the impact of the complexity of the network.”

Velocity isn’t just about speed but also directionality, explained Serena Chan, senior technical advisor at DISA’s Operations and Infrastructure Center.

The goal of directionality is partnership between DISA and other agencies to move toward shared objectives. A foundational aspect is understanding the collected data and having shared definitions of that information to provide a more objective analysis for making decisions.

“Whatever the goals and objectives are, we want to be able to hit the target all the time, every time,” Chan said.

Just how DISA responds to incidents is also part of its overall velocity strategy, which has changed in recent times due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now with the crisis in Ukraine, said Chris Paczkowski, DISA’s Transport Services Directorate executive.

These requirements have impacted how DISA manages data and communications transport on its network. This change first began with the pandemic as the Defense Department had to shift large numbers of civilian personnel to remote telework and provide network support and security for them, Paczkowski said.

Making these changes involved working with private sector partners to help alter how the entire Defense Department functioned for the pandemic and providing the right bandwidth and services to support current operations in Europe and around the world.

“It's not just the incident aspect. But it's also new capabilities and trying to partner with industry to be able to get at these emerging critical timely requirements,” Paczkowski said.

The four-part webinar series tees up AFCEA’s TechNet Cyber event, April 26-28 in Baltimore, and provides an opportunity to learn how you can support the nation’s cyber mission. Be sure to catch the next three sessions on March 30, April 6 and April 13—all taking place live at 1 p.m. ET. One registration provides access to all sessions.