The Power to Connect: The Enterprise within Reach
The Power to Connect: The Enterprise within Reach
Whether fighting insurgents in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan or delivering supplies to an earthquake-stricken region of the world, tomorrow’s battlegrounds are complex and ever changing. Secure and immediate access to relevant protected information is essential to operational success. Increasingly, access to applications and web-based services are just as important — offering tools that help anticipate or predict unanticipated moves or offer greater analysis of the situation at hand — a fact that has not escaped the attention of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).
As the primary provider of joint and coalition command and control capabilities and enterprise infrastructure and services to the warfighter and national level leaders, much of DISA’s work today is focused on building this environment and enhancing the enterprise and its tools and applications focused on requirements from the edge. The agency is working to create a virtual workspace with complete and unfettered access to the information its users need to ensure mission success.
According to DISA Director Lt. Gen. Carroll F. Pollett, the goal is to identify and leverage technology that can establish and enable an “always on” environment with instant and secure access to protected data, tools, and applications that provide the user situational awareness while planning and optimizing rapid informed decision making.
"The men and women of DISA are dedicated and always focused on the warfighter, to include the individual soldier, airmen, sailor, and Marine. We are here to support those who are in harm's way with the information technology they need for communications and command and control," said Pollett. "We are absolutely committed to COCOM, agencies, services, and industry partnerships to deliver a transparent, dynamic, and resilient enterprise infrastructure and services to meet the rapidly evolving operational demands for information sharing and collaboration.”
Mobile Applications to the Edge
DISA is directly engaged in the identification and development of mobile technologies and applications as primary tools for extending the enterprise and connecting edge warfighters back to the global information grid.
“DISA has a long history of providing the warfighter with mobile access to information,” said Dave Mihelcic, DISA Chief Technology Officer, and the man whose team is charged with integrating mobile technologies into the enterprise infrastructure. For example, through the use of the Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device (SME-PED), DOD senior personnel are now able to securely access classified information systems while on the move. A joint DISA/NSA initiative, SME-PEDs are useful, but built on older technology and offer only limited functionality. Both Mihelcic and DISA firmly believe that the future of mobile at DOD is in the continued adoption of commercial technology for use on and off the battlefield.
“We need to come up with various layers of products and software to adapt commercial devices to handle sensitive but unclassified (SBU) and classified data,” said Mihelcic. “We’ll then use those in lieu of tethered devices like laptops and special use military devices. We’ll use iPads or Blackberry Playbook or Android-based devices, and they will be used by soldiers in the field for medical treatment, triage, all sorts of applications, not just for email, but to replace and augment what we have today,” he added.
Like other government agencies, DISA is looking for ways to leverage the huge installed base of smart phones and other mobile technologies already in the hands of many servicemen and women, harnessing the power of familiar and almost universally available technology. But the twin challenges of management and security must be addressed before this is to become reality.
Over time, Mihelcic envisions the creation of a DOD app store, a convenient place to download vetted and secure applications that help deliver on the mission. In 2010, the Army kicked off Apps for the Army (A4A), a challenge directed at unleashing the creativity of soldiers and Army civilians to develop solutions to enhance operational effectiveness and increase business productivity. Parallel efforts were conducted to establish a supporting proof-of-concept application marketplace with streamlined processes and nascent capabilities provided by DOD, such as the DOD Storefront, forge.mil and RACE.
“We want to have literate warfighters who can develop capabilities to advance their mission and perhaps develop them in the field in near real time,” Mihelcic said. The proposed DOD app store would allow for the sharing of relevant, trusted apps across the enterprise, perhaps offering cost savings and efficiencies at the same time.
This kind of modular approach is one that DISA also is applying to the command and control (C2) environment. Large, unwieldy and expensive, these systems pose a challenge to DOD not only in terms of modernization, but also in their ability to support the seamless delivery of information and applications to the warfighter in the new anytime/anywhere environment.
Modern C2 Supports the Vision
According to Martin Gross, Program Executive Officer for Command and Control Capabilities, DISA has begun to shift away from localized services and delivery to a global shared services model.
“We’re engaged in a major effort to move all the localized programs to the enterprise level,” said Gross. In this model, local personnel can shift away from managing “boxes” to become “knowledge managers” with data and services shared across the defense enterprise.
The National Senior Level Decision Support System (NSLDSS) is just one example of the department’s new approach, according to Gross. NSLDSS will provide a framework for the discovery and utilization of information services aimed at enhancing senior leaders’ operational effectiveness, improving their ability to understand a situation, and providing more time in which to respond. Implemented on an agile engineering methodology, NSLDSS is an example of modern C2 moving forward.
The Agile Client is another example of how DISA is moving to a more modular approach and provisioning of C2. Part of the Global Command and Control System, the Agile Client enables the warfighter to easily separate and build data layers for the common operational picture, providing enhanced situational awareness. Used extensively by USSOUTHCOM today, the Agile Client holds great promise for the department.
“What’s important is that we don’t rebuild services for the C2 community,” said Gross. “Where there are enterprise services available, we reuse them.” The challenges, Gross said, are in moving away from big block development and adopting the agile model that will allow for rapid builds and rapid testing of applications across the department. DISA also needs to address the management of localized services from an enterprise level.
“It’s not just about changing the process; you really have to change the culture of what we do. You have to separate IT from the other acquisition efforts,” Gross said. “It’s a long-term cultural transformation.”
Satellite Provides the Backbone for Extending the Enterprise
At the same time, DISA is working to ensure that transport technologies are available that can support transformation to the anytime/anywhere enterprise. Meeting the needs of today’s warfighter is increasingly complex and requires flexibility. And the increased mobility of U.S. forces and the larger DOD workforce has outpaced the ability and reach of the terrestrial infrastructure. No matter the location, users want and demand the same speed, capacity, and reliability of networks back home. The only way to do that is through satellite.
“We want it to look, feel, and act the same way to the warfighter whether connected by cable, fiber optic, or satellite — they don’t know, they don’t care, all they know is the data is coming to them,” said Bruce Bennett, Program Executive Officer for Communications.
DISA has long used satellite communications to expand the reach of the network, primarily in areas where terrestrial communications were unavailable or untenable. But that was primarily for voice communications. Today, DISA is evolving its satellite communications strategy away from the telephony model to a network model, primarily carrying data and images. Tomorrow’s transport infrastructure will be an end-to-end, seamless blend of terrestrial, mobile, and satellite elements that link DOD installations and personnel around the world. Begun in earnest only six years ago, DISA has realized a 10-fold increase in efficiency in data transport via satellite thus far and anticipates realizing additional efficiencies and savings.
This revolution has resulted in quicker response and information transfer to all echelons of warfighter support from global combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to numerous on-going humanitarian efforts (Hurricanes Katrina/Rita, Tsunami Relief, Haiti, and the recent Japanese earthquake/tsunami). In all instances, both military and commercial satellite communications were key transport providers, providing reliable communications to support voice, video, and data information.
“We’re in the midst of a major transformation of how we deliver information across satellites to warfighters,” Bennett said, a transformation that he contends is about 50-percent complete. That transformation is being aided by the introduction of new technology, such as Enhanced Bandwidth Efficient Modems and Joint Internet Protocol Modems — advances in technology that Bennett estimates could increase current throughput by 300 percent.
But the transformation goes well beyond the technology; the government also is changing the way it purchases satellite communications. For many years, the military used its own Defense Satellite Transmission Services – Global contract. Late last year, DISA and the General Services Administration teamed up to award the Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition (FCSA) as the primary vehicle going forward for the purchase of satellite services and equipment. The two agencies are now poised to award the final segment of the FCSA contract, the Custom SATCOM Solutions vehicle, for the provision of “specific services with specific missions.” The new vehicles will offer both DOD and civilian agencies increased flexibility, as well as new technology, new services, and custom solutions from a broader range of suppliers.
The future of military SATCOM is looking decidedly commercial. For many years, commercial satellite providers have been on a mission to change the way the military procures satellite communications. Indeed, the military’s use of commercial satellite services has grown dramatically — now making up more than 65 percent of all capacity. But the military faces the same problems as the commercial market— demand is outpacing supply. In March, DISA released a Request for Information (RFI, seeking comment on its plan to award a 15-year lease for commercial satellite services. Assured SATCOM Services in Single Theater (ASSIST) is DISA’s plan to acquire long-term satellite communications services in the Ka- and Ku-bands, preferably on a single satellite, to meet COCOM theater demand beginning in December 2014. The thought is that leasing an entire satellite for a period of time rather than individual transponders provides the necessary bandwidth for DOD while freeing up commercial time that DOD is currently buying for private sector usage, according to Bennett.
The goal is to ensure “that the warfighter, wherever he is in the world, can get connected and get the information he needs to meet the mission,” said Bennett.
For DISA, that means ensuring that everyone — from the theater commander down to the soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine — has the right information, the same information, at the right place and the right time to execute orders and return home safely.
Reuse, Not Rebuild
As DISA works to transition to the anytime/anywhere enterprise, its focus will be to leverage existing capabilities and infrastructure to deliver end-to-end capabilities to the warfighter. In some areas this focus turns it to commercial technologies, through which the rate of innovation in smart phones has transformed a simple communications device into what Mihelcic refers to as a platform. In other areas, such as satellite, the motivation is to fuse commercial offerings with DOD needs to reduce the cost and increase availability to the warfighter. But the bottom line, as Gross said, is not to reinvent the wheel.
“We don’t want to rebuild infrastructure and services,” Gross said. “We want to use what’s out there.”
Industry’s role in this effort, as always, will be one of support, but just as DOD has had to change the way it thinks about delivering information to the warfighter, industry must change the way it delivers solutions to the department. “Bring an open mind and innovative solutions,” Gross said. “But don’t try to lock us in.”
With thousands of vendors serving the DOD, the department can’t afford to adopt just one approach. Industry must be able to work with other vendors, look at problems holistically and think of new ways to tie things together. Increasingly, that’s become DISA’s role writ large: to pull together the disparate pieces and deliver information seamlessly to the warfighter.