The Pentagon has been talking for a long time about collapsing the military’s tens of thousands of computer networks into something that looks like a single technology enterprise. But it’s taken a major step forward this week, officials said.
What’s called the Joint Information Environment (JIE) — a network architecture that DoD hopes will one day serve the core needs of all the military services — will lean heavily on work that’s already been done in the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command. The combatant commands have been working on a shared IT infrastructure called the Joint Enterprise Network (JEN) to serve various military organizations in their own geographical areas.
In meetings happening in Europe this week, DoD officials are transitioning that use case into what will become the first increment of the DoD-wide Joint Information Enterprise.
“Over the last two years, those COCOMs have done a great job articulating what really is the larger goal of the JIE,” said Rear Adm. David Simpson, vice director of the Defense Information Systems Agency during a panel discussion hosted by the D.C. chapter of AFCEA. “The summit this week really represents a handoff.”
Simpson said EUCOM and AFRICOM have developed mature data transport capabilities and data center consolidation principles within JEN, and military services and other organizations within the combatant commands have already signed memoranda of agreement to determine who will pay for what. He said AFRICOM and EUCOM will now take responsibility for building the first increment of the JIE.
“They’ll take advantage of what was defined in JEN and work low-hanging fruit to not only achieve a capability that’s part of JIE, but also to tease out those challenges, those barriers, those investments needed to inform the budget.”
But Simpson said there will be no new money to build the JIE. DoD will have to fund the new network enterprise by finding IT efficiencies elsewhere and getting rid of redundancies between the military services.
“That’s where the synchronization part really comes in,” he said. “The investment potential for the JIE really comes in the current IT spend that’s spread across the entire department. So we’ll take an existing IT capability or service, sunset that and then repurpose those resources toward the next element of attaining this Joint Information Environment.”
For the next increment of JIE, DoD will turn to U.S. Pacific Command. IT leaders there will take what their colleagues in Europe learn in the first increment and hopefully improve upon it.
Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, who just left the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) and will soon assume a leadership role in U.S. Cyber Command, said those combatant commands are a logical place to start work on a joint networking environment. After all, the organizations and workforces within those commands are joint by nature.
“It’s really easy to look at the overseas areas and find enclaves in Europe or Korea or Japan that are clearly purple,” she said. “There are clear delineations, and everything between them is already operated by DISA. So we should go after those first while we figure out how to get everything in the continental U.S. ready to go into the JIE. I still think the challenges will be that some of the services have their own ideas about enterprise within their own services, so there are some equities that I think are going to be challenging to give up. My opinion, not necessarily the Army’s opinion, is that the network should be purple all the way down into a post, camp or station, and it changes color when it gets to an organization. In other words, an air wing is clearly blue and an Army brigade combat team is clearly green, but everything else is purple until you get to that point.”
But Napper said with military bases in the U.S. increasingly being occupied by organizations from several different services, implementing a “purple,” or joint, network here in the continental United States is critical as well.
“Let’s pick on Shaw Air Force Base, where we just moved Army Central Command. One of our premiere Army units is sitting inside an Air Force base, and it’s silly for us to be running our own virtual private networks into there or running our own server stacks when they’ve already got the capabilities right there inside Shaw Air Force Base. But that’s the kind of thing we’re doing today, so you can’t get to JIE fast enough in my opinion. But you’ve still got processes and governance that we’re going to have to work through as we move forward.”
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006 as the producer and news anchor of the station’s morning drive program, the Federal Drive. He launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.