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Panel: U.S. International Partnerships Are Strong, Ability to Integrate Networks Is Not

Cross-domain integration with allies and partners in a complex operating environment is difficult, given stovepiped and disaggregated systems and networks, leaders say.

Partnerships with like-minded international rule-following nations mean that the U.S. military must have networks that work with allies as the services conduct combined operations across the globe. The United States and its allies and partners need to greatly advance the integration of their networks and digital enterprises to operate more successfully, especially in the face of near-peer aggression, leaders warned.

Challenges abound on many levels, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Miles, director, C4, J6, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM); Canada’s Brig. Gen. Kyle Paul, deputy commanding general, Transformation, Space Operations Command; and U.S. Air Force Col. James Austin, deputy director, Cyber Operations, U.S. European Command (EUCOM), J63, speaking at the AFCEA Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium 2024, held in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For Gen. Miles at INDOPACOM with about 30 partners, the sheer number of networks in the Mission Partner Environment (MPE) is large while network instances are usually small in scale. The larger networks are episodic, created for a big exercise in the region and then shut down.

Overall, the inability to easily integrate MPEs means that the network environment across the nations is not agile, targetable, robust or secure, he said.

“When we do a mission or an operation in the Pacific, if it involves multiple partners, we [usually] have to create a new network for it,” Gen. Miles stated. “Or if there is not time to just build a whole other network for the exercise, it is human beings acting as cross-domain solutions. It is literally someone reading a chat and writing on another keyboard to transfer that data from one partner to the other. In 2024, that's how we do network. That is not agile. That does not allow operational flexibility to really leverage our partnerships.”

And while the U.S. military has some specific cross-domain solutions in its trusted network environment, these add latency and have very specific data flows, the INDOPACOM J6 said.

“What we don't do or can't do today in this partner environment, specifically in the Pacific, is to have targetable data,” Gen. Miles stressed. “And if you can't execute targets on your network, I would argue that you are missing probably the key operational problem that we need our networking for.”






Like the United States, Canada operates with allies and partners and sees data as primordial to everything its military does. The Canadian Space Force, in particular, is working to treat data as a weapon, said Gen. Paul. “Within Space Force, within our distinct mission areas, we are looking at how do we share information that has been stovedpiped for many years,” he offered. “And be able to share it within our own service, and also as we try to build out that resiliency and federate that mission to our partners and allies, how do we ensure that we have that baseline foundation to be able to share that information as well.”

And similarly, sometimes Canadian warfighters have taken shortcuts—such as using commercial email platforms to exchange information—where partner network interoperability failed. “I think we’ve been a victim of our own success, because we have just made it happen,” Gen. Paul acknowledged. “We are trying to knit together of all the disparate pieces.”

Policies within the Canadian military have to change to facilitate more information sharing with partners. “A lot of times, we find that we would love to share information, yet we are constricted,” he continued. “And we are not allowed to actually communicate what our requirements are to our partners and allies and industry.”

The Transformation department is turning to development security operations, or DevSecOps, to see how it can build an environment for the Five Eyes partners—Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. “How do I build out the Five-Eye environment, at the very least where we can leverage each other’s expertise,” the Canadian general stated. “How can we close those kill webs? How can we improve upon the current weapon systems that we have?”

In addition, Canada’s Space Force holds the line with space domain information from partners and allies. “We don’t allow just anyone to contribute to that space domain awareness,” he stated. “We set the standard and we ensure that anything coming in to that achieves that standard.”

Brigadier General Mark D. Miles (USA) Director of Command, Control, Communications and Cyber, J-6 United States Indo-Pacific Command
What we don't do or can't do today in this partner environment, specifically in the Pacific, is to have targetable data. And if you can't execute targets on your network, I would argue that you are missing probably the key operational problem that we need our networking for.
Brigadier General Mark D. Miles, USA
Director of Command, Control, Communications and Cyber, J-6 United States Indo-Pacific

Meanwhile, at the U.S. European Command, or EUCOM, the United States' ability to easily integrate networks with its partners is also not great, Col. Austin said.

“We planned on being combat effective, but we have lost that,” he stated. “We are a cost efficient now. I have one data center. I have one pipe, and all my hopes and dreams run across that. That's fine [for the war on terror in the Middle East]. But in near-peer competition, they know where your data center is, and it is targeted. And what's our worst enemy, a backhoe, a backhoe pulling up some fiber somewhere and you are down. EUCOM has its challenges.”

Col. Austin also noted the difficulty with simply sending emails to partners, citing an example with a New Zealand colleague when they were stationed in Guam. After 20 minutes of the email not coming through—when the relay from Guam to the United States and back failed—the leaders had to find an ad hoc solution. “It is a real struggle,” he noted.

Operating in NATO, the complex federated mission network environment includes 31 allies. The United States has brought in federated mission network standards, but each country may have a different standard. “It is like driving on the right side of the road versus the left side,” the colonel stated.

Essentially it comes down to trust and knowing a partner’s ability to secure its networks and data. “I do have to know that the partner or ally, based on intelligence, is really good at securing with their information,” Col. Austin said. “If I know that they have a little bit of a weakness, I try to train them.”

EUCOM itself is struggling, the colonel continued, noting how now-retired Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, the previous commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, saw how the command took 6-9 months to stand up a network.

“‘That can’t happen,’ he said, not with Russia here,” Col. Austin noted.