DOD has IP networking thrust upon it

RESTON, Va.'Combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have delivered a clear message to the Pentagon about the need for IP networking in the field.

'They told us, 'Either you buy it for us or we'll buy it ourselves,' ' Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, Army CIO for G6, said during the Coalition IPv6 Summit.

So the Army is moving seven of its 10 divisions from circuit-based communications systems to IP.

The move began with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which had bought its own IP telephone system from Cisco Systems during its first tour of duty in Iraq. The Army saw it needed to keep its combat units from developing stovepiped systems that could not work with each other.

Contracts for the 3rd Division's conversion were awarded in April 2004, equipment was installed in August of that year and the unit was shipped back to Iraq. Links to outside networks for IP voice, video and classified and unclassified data networks is a Ku band satellite connection.

'It's pretty ugly,' Boutelle said. 'But we sent them back and we're cleaning it up as we go.'

DOD has a long history of forcing IP on its communications systems. The Arpanet, forerunner of today's Internet, was forced to IP in the 1980s when circuit switching was turned off ' whether users were ready for it or not. The department now is following the same pattern in its move to Version 6 of the Internet Protocols.

'We don't have a business case in the United States yet, a killer app to drive us to IPv6,' Boutelle said.

But DOD is moving ahead with the transition to prepare itself for weapons and communications systems that will not come out of the pipeline for another decade or longer. The change also will be necessary to enable information sharing among U.S. military services and between foreign allies.

'We have got to get into the IPv6 world, there is no doubt about that,' Boutelle said.

IPv4 still is a viable networking protocol but it now depends on a host of after-market plug ins ' such as network address translation, firewalls and virtual private networks ' to support today's applications. By 2012 it no longer will be able to fully support DOD's needs, Boutelle said.

The military still is operating on Version 4 of the Internet Protocols, but all of the networking equipment being bought for its combat divisions is ready for Version 6. The cutover to IPv6 is scheduled to begin in 2008, but the transition will be a long one. As long as IPv4 is running on the network, there will be tunneling and translation required for interoperability.

'We'll probably start the transition by October of '08,' Boutell said. 'But we're going to be in that world a long time.'

The transition period probably will continue through at least 2013, when DOD expects to begin deactivating IPv4 on its networks.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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