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Scaling the Defense Frontier: DISA's Vision for a Secure and Agile Digital Future

The agency oversees global defense networks, emphasizing scalability, simplicity, data protection and partnerships for readiness from headquarters to the edge.

DISA, the Defense Information Systems Agency, oversees one of the world’s most complex communications networks to guarantee safety and maintain readiness in case of conflict.

At the headquarters level, the organization manages a network where the sun never sets, serving more than 4 million users.

“The Department of Defense information network is the third largest in the world,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner, director of DISA and commander of the Joint Force Headquarters, Department of Defense Information Network (DoDIN).

The first guideline Gen. Skinner offered was around scalability. With such a large and diverse client base, potential suppliers should be able to adapt.

“As a business, and as a partner, you have got to scale, if you cannot scale, it'd be hard, we'll be hard pressed to do business with you,” Gen. Skinner told the audience during his keynote address at AFCEA’s TechNet Augusta conference.

“The other thing is complexity, as we look at how we align our force, as we look at the technology that we need, we have got to simplify the complexity of our environment: our force cannot be successful and cannot be as agile and maneuverable without helping us simplify that environment,” Gen. Skinner urged.

The general expanded on how industry will continue to engage DISA on data protection. Following the impact level definition, the DoD assesses the risks if information is compromised or access to it is denied. In that framework, impact level six, or IL-6, is up to “secret.”

Additionally, he referenced how contracts for cloud technologies adopted within IL-6 would be adopted. This is the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability or JWCC, where leading cloud suppliers received contracts.

“If it is at the IL-6 or higher level, then JWCC is your contract vehicle,” Gen. Skinner said.

Amazon Web Services, Google Support Services, Microsoft Corporation and Oracle signed JWCC contracts with DoD and other cloud-supported suppliers should go through these companies to supply their services, according to Skinner.

Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, USAF, DISA director and commander of the JFHQ-DODIN, addresses the audience at TechNet Cyber 2023. Credit: Michael Carpenter
We will continue working with industry to figure out how we can leverage what industry has out there.
Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner
DISA Director

For those businesses that would like to join companies already making inroads into the DoD via DISA, Gen. Skinner stressed alternatives for those not specializing in the cloud.

“We have infrastructure as code, we have accelerators, so for those mission partners who aren't cloud experts, we have set up an environment to include what we call Vulcan, which are our DevSecOps, that enables mission partners to leverage the cloud even faster,” Gen. Skinner told event attendees on Wednesday.

“We will continue working with industry to figure out how we can leverage what industry has out there like colocation sites, industry fiber, industry subsea, industry space—a lot of great activity, a lot of great work to make sure that is there during crisis and conflict,” Gen. Skinner said.

Among the upcoming improvements in user experience comes moving data by users that increase their IL levels, for example from 5 to 6. Gen. Skinner explained that DISA has streamlined processes and made these migrations easier compared to past issues.

Similarly, Gen. Skinner stressed that network security compliance around zero-trust principles was about to hit 90% of the requirement for the DoD goal.

Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner, director of the DISA and commander of the Joint Force Headquarters, Department of Defense Information Network, speaks at TechNet Augusta 2023.