For Army, network tops modernization priorities

By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

The Army’s new chief information officer says changing the way her service thinks about information technology is a daunting task, but she is ready to tackle a range of modernization efforts including integrating the service’s IT networks, eliminating inefficient applications and consolidating underutilized data centers.

Lt. Gen Susan Lawrence said the direction from above, from no less than the Army chief of staff, is that the network is the Army’s number one modernization priority. She doesn’t expect that to change when a new chief of staff takes over later this year.

That’s network — not networks. Lawrence, who spoke to IT and communications industry members at an AFCEA Northern Virginia conference on Friday, said the Army is focused on transforming its collection of tactical networks, collectively known as LandWarNet, into one single network it has dubbed the Global Network Enterprise Construct. It is intended to be accessible to soldiers from anywhere and usable for any Army purpose, both on base and in the theater.


“It’s got to be end to end,” she said. “A general has got to be able to train his forces as he’s going to fight from the foxhole to the home station. And there’s a lot of second-and third-order effects that we’re going to see from this. One is that it’s going to reduce the boots on the ground. If he is connected to his data all the time, he doesn’t have to take everything with him. He will get to it through the network.”

The idea is that Army forces in the future will be able to deploy more quickly and more effectively, using one network identity, rather than having different roles, credentials and applications for their garrison networks and their tactical networks. Soldiers will have one identity, one email address and access to all their data through the use of a single common access card, whether they’re deployed, training, preparing for deployment, or spending down time at home.

“At any given time, only 20 percent of our forces are deployed,” she said. “80 percent of our warfighters are in the other three phases. What network are they training on? They’re training on the garrison network, which is the global network enterprise, because we’re going to operationalize it for them. We’re going to ensure that they can get to their battle command system from wherever they are. That’s less time when they’re back home having to have them deploy just so they can come up on a tactical network. They’re going to be able to do this from their home stations. Today we have a delineation between the tactical network and the operational network. The global network enterprise is the end-to-end.”

The first piece of the global enterprise puzzle is unified enterprise email, a migration the Army began earlier this year. Lawrence said they’ve migrated about 1,000 users to the new system so far. Users in the CIO’s office were among the first to venture in.

“I went last Friday, and the sun still came up,” said Army deputy CIO Mike Krieger at a separate conference last week. “It’s actually working very well. I have not lost any combat effectiveness since I went over.”

Krieger said cloud-based email services, hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency, will be the first proof of the efficiency the Army hopes to gain from its full enterprise network.

“We have the largest enterprise license agreement with Microsoft, so we already run Microsoft products for email, but we run them very inefficiently, because we’re the Army and decentralization is the way we operate,” said Krieger, who served as acting CIO for several months prior to Lawrence’s appointment.

“At Fort Belvoir, a local post, we have eight enclaves of Exchange servers run by eight different IT shops,” Krieger said. “Why don’t we move the things that we can off of posts, camps and stations onto the cloud? Perhaps you’ll gain operational effectiveness, perhaps you’ll upgrade security. You’ll have a lot less system admins. And you’ll save a lot of money.”

Another Army component the service intends to migrate to cloud email is the Department of the Army headquarters, the idea being that if the Chief of Staff and Army Secretary are already using enterprise email, other Army units might be less apt to resist the change.

Lawrence said there have been bumps in the road, and there will be more as they accelerate the migration. To sidestep some of those potential pitfalls, she said the Army will need advice from industry.

“You were forced to go to this enterprise environment much quicker because yours was about a profit,” she said. “You knew you had to do things smarter to be competitive. Help us not to do dumb things. If you see a requirement out there and we’re talking about it the wrong way, help us. We cannot afford to do business the way we did business before. You have to make a profit and we have to operate with a severely cut defense budget. We have to figure this out.”

But figuring it out, however, will mean industry will need to come to the Army with fewer unproven concepts and more working products. “We don’t want you to build us another handheld device. We’ve got 11 of them already,” she said. “What we’ve got to do is be able to articulate the gaps, so you’re putting your research and development dollars where we need you to.”

The good news for industry, she said, is that the Army intends to help them conduct their independent R&D. The center of that activity will be at Fort Bliss, Texas. There, an Army heavy combat brigade has been pulled out of the overseas deployment rotation and tasked with testing new technology from the perspective of deployable soldiers.

“Somewhere between two and four times a year, we’re going to invite you down and have you put your IT insertion into our network and put it into the hands of the soldiers,” she said. Because at the end of the day, it’s not the program executive officers and labs that are telling us the importance of something. It’s the soldiers in the field that are saying ‘Hey, I can do this now.’ That’s what we have to do.”

Lawrence said the Fort Bliss model will lead to a streamlined testing environment for new technology in the Army, so that the service can buy products more quickly and more cheaply.

As the Army builds its global network enterprise, Lawrence said simplifying and streamlining its IT systems will dovetail with the Administration’s directives to consolidate data centers and undertake other IT efficiencies.

Getting rid of unnecessary and unjustifiable applications will be a big focus as well, she said. As the Army makes its data center moves, it wants to keep only the applications it truly needs. Lawrence said unnecessary apps prove to be very expensive, as she noticed when she saw ever-growing commercial satellite bandwidth costs resulting from the demands of Army IT systems in Iraq.

“I’m saying, what in the world are we putting in this little country that needs this much bandwidth? So we created a database and started collecting all the applications. I quit counting after 4,200 applications,” she said. “Make a decision. Set the standard. If you come to the fight in Iraq, these are the applications you will use. Train on these only. We talk about cradle-to-grave with our PEO brothers and sisters. After 38 years, I don’t think I’ve seen anything go to the grave.”

This story is part of Federal News Radio’s daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.

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