Army opens up to interoperability
- By Dawn S. Onley
- Aug 27, 2003
Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, Army's IT sentry
Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle recently became a three-star general and is now the Army's CIO.
Boutelle replaced Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello. Previously, Boutelle was director for information operations, networks and space in the Army CIO office.
In his new post, Boutelle manages command, control, communications and computers programs. He says his goals include bolstering bandwidth and improving the networks that connect Army systems and other military units.
From 1997 to 2001, Boutelle worked as the Army's program executive officer for command, control and communications systems.
In an Army career that has spanned three decades, Boutelle also has served as commander of the 362nd Signal Company in Korea and chief of test and evaluation and executive officer for the Command Systems Integration Agency.
He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Puget Sound and a master's in business administration from Marymount University.
His military awards include the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Army Meritorious Service Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters.
GCN staff writer Dawn S. Onley interviewed Boutelle in his Pentagon office.GCN: What is the Army doing to promote interoperability?
BOUTELLE: I think the Army, along with the other services, is focused on several things to support interoperability. One is communications systems. They must be able to communicate, be they radio, wire or digital. We're doing that through the Joint Tactical Radio System program. JTRS will bring together legacy waveforms and some new waveforms. That will give us a common radio.
The second piece is common standards. Most systems and all the services have converged on IP Version 4 moving to Version 6. IPv6 will be very expensive and very painful, but with tremendous rewards. There will be quite a few years that we run both IPv4 and IPv6. But even when you get the communications systems talking and the protocols talking, the next thing you have to do get down to the data elements and have them talk.
The Defense Department has tried for many, many years to get common data elements. I think our fallback position is probably Extensible Markup Language for interoperability and data elements between different types of systems.
And of course applications must be interoperable. You and I can have different applications, but if they don't have common messaging, they're still not going to talk. You really have to look at the messaging between systems. Do you use U.S. Message Text Formatting or do you use one of the many data links?
Once you get to the messages, then within the messages you have to have the same data elements. And then your applications carry those messaging and data elements.
We have not done a good job over the years defining what interoperability is. I think that through the JTRS program and the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Terrestrial program, which will be based upon open standards, there will be a significant improvement to interoperability.GCN: Is the Army pushing for open standards?
BOUTELLE: This is a great push for the Army. We should never use a proprietary standard or a military standard, unless there is a terribly pressing reason that we cannot come up with a commercial standard to meet the needs.
We need to use commercial standards to take advantage of the strides made by industry. Let industry make the investments to improve those items, and then we buy them off the shelves. Let industry push the upgrades.
We no longer can afford to push the upgrades and maintain proprietary standards. There are a few exceptions. Those few exceptions are those things that are very, very unique to the military and for which there is no commercial counterpart.GCN: How well did Army systems do during the fighting phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom?
BOUTELLE: We are very pleased with the interoperability, the results of what happened in Iraq. One of the most common obstacles to interoperability was that people were on different versions of communications security keylists. That's not an interoperability issue; it's a management issue.
Or they had different radios. But seldom did we have a case where we actually had radios that should have talked to each other but did not.
So, we also found in some cases it wasn't an interoperability issue, but we moved so fast into Iraq and so far, so quickly that we extended the ranges of our line-of-sight radios. We had to fall back to high-frequency radios, which the Army does not have a lot of. It really was not an interoperability issue; it was a reach issue.GCN: The Future Combat Systems program is intended to connect every weapon and significant piece of equipment in the Army on one network. Where is the Army going to find the bandwidth to pull this off?
BOUTELLE: I believe the need for bandwidth probably will always exceed in our lifetime the ability to provide it, especially over radio. Having said that, the JTRS radio, which will be a part of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, will provide a significant part of that bandwidth.
But if you look at the FCS program, the chiefs have made a case that they need to go beyond the spectrum that is allocated for JTRS today. Once again, you'll have the line-of-sight bandwidth when vehicles and platforms are close enough to each other to use line-of-sight radios. And you'll also have a heavy reliance on satellites as we do today. There will be military satellite systems, and when FCS comes on board, you'll have two other constellations.
We'll have the Wideband Gap Filler constellation, which we hope to see in place by 2006, and we'll also be getting the new Transformational Communications Satellite. TCS should be in orbit in the 2010 to 2012 timeframe, which should give us more than adequate bandwidth.GCN: On a scale of one to 10, how far along are the Army and DOD in joint interoperability and network-centric warfare?
BOUTELLE: On joint interoperability, we're probably at about a seven, and we're vastly improving. It comes back to defining interoperability. You have the radios, the communications, the protocols, the messaging, the message sets, the data elements and the applications, and all those pieces play in to achieving interoperability
We're in a transition to net-centric warfare. Many of the systems are still circuit-switched or stovepiped, but almost all the new systems are TCP/IP-based and network-based. The Global Broadcast Satellite System, one of the three satellite stations, is now IP.
We're in the midst of a transition. We have a foot in both camps today in being IP and network-centric and another foot that is still very much stovepiped, not in the pejorative sense. It in those stovepipes that you get your richness that you want to share.GCN: What are the biggest IT lessons the military has learned in Iraq?
BOUTELLE: I think one of the larger issues that we have still not adequately addressed is combat identification. We have Blue Force Tracking software which helps and mitigates some of the issues with fratricide, but to get each and every individual, soldier, sailor, Marine and airman on the ground to have a device that connects with the network is a massive undertaking.
It's one thing to be able to identify an airplane or a tank. It's another thing when you get down the next level, you have to identify every single individual all the time, 24 hours a day.
Network-centric warfare is relatively easy in a large city where you can plug in. But when you go to the places that we go in the armed forces, where there is no infrastructure at all, you have to bring it with you.GCN: Do the Blue Force Tracking applications that the Army and Marine Corps use speak to one another?
BOUTELLE: During Iraqi Freedom, the Army provided systems to the Marine Corps and to British forces. There was Blue Force Tracking for Special Forces, too.
In fact, the systems did talk to each other. They all came together in the Global Command and Control System and provided a common operational picture.
Recently the Joint Requirements Oversight Council appointed the Army the lead service to bring together a common Blue Force situational awareness program. The Army has been assigned to bring all the services together and the architecture together under the oversight of the Joint Forces Command.