President's Commentary: Cloud Computing: Get It Right but Get On With It
Both urgency and care are indeed vital to implementing the department’s cloud computing plans.
John Sherman, the Defense Department’s chief information officer, recently explained to members of Congress that when it comes to the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC) contract, the department needs to “move with a sense of urgency” while also taking the time to “get this right.”
The JWCC is the department’s largest commercial cloud venture to date and is led by the Defense Information Systems Agency. The department initiated JWCC following the debacle known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, which was canceled last year. The JWCC is expected to be worth up to $9 billion and involves Google, Oracle, Microsoft and Amazon, who are working with the department on a multicloud, multivendor solution at unclassified, secret and top-secret security levels.
Cloud computing capabilities are critical to the Defense Department’s modernization efforts. That’s why the department increased its fiscal year 2022 cloud computing budget by 19 percent over the previous year.
To put it bluntly—and simply—cloud computing changes everything.
It enables or enhances an array of other capabilities, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, big data analysis, next-generation mobile communications, Mission Partner Environment, joint all-domain command and control, zero-trust cybersecurity and computing at the tactical edge.
For example, the department’s digital modernization strategy explains that modernizing warfighter support systems will improve command and control, information sharing and decision support by analyzing sensor data from the Department of Defense Information Network. Meanwhile, modernization of the Defense Information Systems Network will provide critical enhancements to fully realize the benefits from cloud computing, big data analytics, mobility, Internet of Things, increased automation and cognitive computing. Furthermore, increased availability of secure, mobile, wireless capabilities across the department will increase joint force maneuver, accuracy and information advantage.
If that weren’t enough, digital modernization will improve healthcare, logistics and other warfighting support functions. Enhanced delivery and protection of positioning, navigation and timing, and development of a resilient, secure and adaptive tactical information technology infrastructure will improve the joint force’s ability to operate in denied, degraded, contested, congested and operationally limited environments.
In short, cloud computing is essential to everything the department hopes to accomplish on behalf of future warfighters.
But the U.S. military is not alone in its interest in cloud computing. The department’s 2020 report, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” illustrates that China’s military modernization goals sound very much like our own. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seeks networked, advanced command, control, communications, computing and intelligence systems to provide “reliable, secure communications to fixed and mobile command posts, thereby enabling rapid, effective, multi-echelon decision-making,” the report says.
Such systems are designed to distribute data via redundant, resilient communications networks to improve commanders’ situational awareness. The PLA views making near-real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data available to field commanders to streamline their decision processes.
Like our own forces, China is fielding technologies to enable communications required for joint operations. Digital databases and command automation tools allow PLA commanders to issue orders simultaneously to multiple units while on the move and enable units to adapt rapidly to shifting conditions.
The PLA is expected to implement emerging technologies such as big data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and cloud computing to provide reliable, automated platforms to make processes more efficient. In fact, China already is embracing big data analytics that fuse a variety of data to improve automation and create a comprehensive, real-time picture of the battlefield.
Sherman is right. Both urgency and care are indeed vital to implementing the department’s cloud computing plans.
So, let’s take care to get the JWCC right. But at the same time, let’s get on with it.