Insights from AFCEA DC’s Army IT Initiatives Kickoff

Published: September 30, 2015

ARMYCloud ComputingCommunications ServicesDEFENSEJoint Information Environment (JIE)Mobility

Big changes are underway in Army IT as the service grapples with the challenges of modernizing networks while implementing mobile, cloud, and Home Station Mission Command concepts.

Late last week, the District of Columbia chapter of the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association (AFCEA) held its fall kickoff event by featuring three speakers from the U.S. Army: CIO/G6, LTG Robert Ferrell, Deputy CIO/G6, Gary Wang, and PEO Enterprise Information Systems, Douglas Wiltsie. The speakers covered a variety of significant issues on strategic, policy, and tactical levels, providing a thorough discussion of what’s happening in the fascinating, but slow-moving world of Army IT.

General Ferrell began the session with a bird’s eye view of the priority IT initiatives that the Army is undertaking. The top priority continues to be network modernization (NETMOD), as it has been for several years now. At the heart of the Army’s efforts is implementing the Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS) and the Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) gear that make up the so-called “MPLS Cloud.”

General Ferrell informed the audience that the focus of these efforts is moving from Joint Base San Antonio and Ft. Hood to new locations in the continental U.S. Once networks have been modernized in the CONUS, the Army’s efforts will shift to Europe in FY 2017, and then the Pacific in FY 2018. The general emphasized, however, that even though the Pacific isn’t an immediate priority, there is work currently underway related to the region. Specifically, the Army is building a new command facility in Hawaii for the Pacific Command (PACOM) and it is investing $41 million in the MPLS switching network across the Korean peninsula.

The Army CIO’s second top priority is building out the Home Station Mission Command concept, which is based on the principle that each home station should be able to operate independently in the event that a disruption to network communications occurs. As has been the case with initiatives like data center consolidation, the Army is beginning the process with a survey of the equipment at home stations to determine the “as is” status of communications networks. These surveys, being conducted by Communications Electronics Command (CECOM) personnel, are uncovering where improvements are required so that all networks can be brought up to a single standard of performance (i.e., increasing bandwidth). Personnel at Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) are using the results of the surveys to develop a single requirements document for the modernization effort, implying that the Army will compete a large contract to procure the services needed to implement the Home Station Mission Command concept.

Deputy CIO/G6 Gary Wang followed up General Ferrell’s comments with discussions of Army mobility and cloud computing. One thing Mr. Wang clarified is that the Army is unlikely to ever adopt a Bring-Your-Own-Device policy. Rather, it will use a “Select Your Own Device” approach with a limited number of devices being acceptable for use within the Army enterprise. Security for mobile devices will be implemented using multi-factor authentication, including passwords, PINs, and biometrics. Mr. Wang also emphasized that the Army is interested in so-called “extreme mobility.” These are solutions that enable mobility in extreme situations like harsh, disconnected environments.

Concerning the Army’s use of cloud computing, Mr. Wang had only marginally encouraging news for the audience, expressing the opinion that interoperability is lacking in the available industry solutions and hinting that its absence is hindering the Army’s interest. Until this situation changes, he noted, the Army will likely remain limited to using “commoditized” cloud solutions, which could mean solutions that do not allow mission critical apps to be placed in cloud environments.

Lastly, Doug Wiltsie, explained in greater detail where the Army’s efforts are as far as its larger initiatives are concerned. For example, regarding NETMOD, Mr. Wiltsie said he anticipates that all JRSS which have been procured to this point will be in place by end of CY 2015. Additionally, all MPLS gear will be in place in the CONUS and in Europe by the end of FY 2016, somewhat contradicting General Ferrell, who said Europe would be integrated by the end of FY 2017. The Army will then turn to PACOM to increase bandwidth in Korea. After these efforts are complete, said Mr. Wiltsie, the Army will “back into” Japan, Hawaii, and Alaska. The biggest technical challenge the Army currently faces in this effort is maintaining high enough bandwidth across the Pacific Ocean for enterprise services like unified communications to be used. Otherwise, the available budget will determine the pace, meaning that the return of sequestration could/will slow things considerably.

Mr. Wiltsie confirmed that an Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity contract is being put together for the implementation of the Home Station Mission Command concept at all division, corps, and army headquarters, in addition to all of the Combatant Commands. This effort will progress in FY 2016, suggesting that vendors should keep their eyes peeled for related market research to appear next fiscal year.

Lastly, Mr. Wiltsie shared a few tidbits about the long-awaited unified communications RFP and about Army cloud. First, concerning UC, he optimistically expects the RFP to come out in FY 2016, with plans to award by Q1 of FY 2017 at the latest. Interested vendors probably know that this timetable is a long-shot, but best to be prepared, just in case. Turning to cloud, Mr. Wiltsie revealed that the Army’s first Cloud Access Point is being stood up as part of a pilot at the Redstone Arsenal. The effort there is currently collapsing numerous data centers into a single contractor owned, contractor operated facility on Army premises. Wiltsie characterized the facility as a multi-tenant, on-premise, private COCO cloud. The project is billed as a pilot, but its success likely means that the Redstone Cloud will become one of the Army’s de facto commercial cloud environments. A successful pilot probably also means that the creation of the Redstone Cloud is likely to be the model for creating additional army CAPs moving forward.