Army looks for common IT ground

Despite making strides in expanding network-centric operations, the Army still must address the challenges of network standardization by working with other armed forces to establish interoperable tools and promote information sharing, Army officials said last week at Army IT Day in Vienna, Va. AFCEA International sponsored the conference.

Most expeditionary capabilities are network-dependent, and the establishment of the Army LandWarNet has been a major step toward more network-based operations, said Brig. Gen. Brian Donahue, director of the LandWarNet Directorate in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff.

LandWarNet is the Army's contribution to the Defense Department's Global Information Grid (GIG), a network for delivering information on demand to warfighters, commanders and support personnel worldwide.

The Army Signal Corps has been a main conveyor of LandWarNet as it supports warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.

'Our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown us that the network is flat, it is inextricably linked,' said Maj. Denise Brown, III U.S. Corps operations officer in the 3rd Signal Brigade.

'Everybody has the ability to touch the GIG,' said Brown, who has served two tours in Iraq. 'What that means is that we need to start looking at network tools that provide us with shared situational awareness from the lowest level to the highest level.'

'I'm not saying we need one toolset that everybody has to use,' she said. 'But my recommendation is that if it is plug-and-play, it has to be interoperable.'

Network standardization continues to be a challenge. For example, the Air Force has one standard for information assurance, the Army another, Brown said.

'The problem is the difference in our vision,' she said. 'How they secure their network from the beginning and how we secure ours is different, and it creates a problem when you try to connect the two.'

Brig. Gen. Susan Lawrence, commanding general of the Army's Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command, echoed those sentiments in a later presentation at the conference.

The Air Force and Army have two different biometric programs that are not compatible, which made it difficult to interact in Iraq using Common Access Cards.

Lawrence also said there is a growing need for multilevel security because on any given day Army personnel on the battlefield could be dealing with different coalition partners at a moment's notice. 'Instead of building new boxes, we need to get [more] rulesbased solutions,' she said.

Given that scenario, there is a need for more SIPRLite networks, she said, referring to the Secure IP Router Network used by DOD and the State Department to transmit classified information.

In fact, the Army's III U.S. Corps G/6 Multinational Corp-Iraq had to build such a network to give partners in the Iraqi Army access to information, said Col. Gerald Daniels.

The Army is moving to a smaller and more powerful footprint to better meet the needs of the battle command, Lawrence said.

On any given day, the Army might have to deal with a hurricane hitting the U.S., an earthquake in Pakistan, or a pre-emptive strike by one country against an ally ' with all activities supported by the same network.

That means the transformation of all the armed services, combatant commands, other government agencies and multinational enterprises into a whole greater than the sum of its parts, Lawrence said.

For the Army, that entails adopting a culture of information sharing.

'Sharing is not something we do,' said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army's chief information officer.

However, the Army is looking to change that culture with a greater emphasis on knowledge management.

The Army has established knowledge management centers such as the Warfighter Forum sponsored by the Army Forces Command, Sorenson said. The Heavy Brigade Combat Team in Freeport, Texas, and the Stryker Warfighter Forum in Fort Lewis, Wash., are forums that anyone with access to Army Knowledge Online can access to learn what warfighters are doing, he added.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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