Army embarks on ambitious voice-over-IP initiative

Program Manager Network Service Center to lead servicewide migration plan

The Army has launched a program to replace older phone equipment with digital voice-over-IP technology by 2024. Part of a Defense Department-mandated effort, the work of converting the service’s systems will ultimately create a seamless digital network for voice and data communications. The Army’s networks vary by region, and some zones are more integrated than others.

Leading the Army’s effort is the Program Manager Network Service Center (PM NSC), part of the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, which is responsible for providing and maintaining the service’s information management systems backbone infrastructure.

The Army's U.S. installations are connected through the Defense Information Systems Agency’s wide-area network, said Lisa Lee, chief of the Technical Management Operations Division at PM NSC. DISA's network treats those facilities as separate enclaves for VOIP. For example, the Army’s European network is considered one large enclave while the Pacific area of operation has four different enclaves, such as Hawaii, which has an accredited and operational VOIP capability.

Army Chief Information Officer Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson designated PM NSC in August as the lead organization responsible for coordinating the servicewide migration plan to VOIP. Lee said the migration plan will include the development and approval of architecture, a business case analysis and continuity-of-operations plans. She added that PM NSC is not responsible for all of those areas but noted that the center will lead the collaborative effort with the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command, Information Technology Information Sharing and Analysis Center and Army CIO/G6 to gather information, identify gaps, develop a plan, approve it and execute it. Lee cautioned that the effort is still in an early stage.

Before the new program, all of the Army’s various agencies worked independently from a network perspective, Lee said. But that arrangement will soon change because the new VOIP architecture might be approved within the next six to eight months, she said. The rapid progress, combined with results from the ongoing DISA Unified Communications pilot program, will aggressively push the migration effort forward, she added.

Launched in 2009, the UC pilot program seeks to provide end-to-end VOIP across the DOD network. The program is managed in conjunction with all the military services and their components. The effort is providing a selected variety of vendor VOIP switches.

The Siemens HiPath switch was selected for use in the United States and the Siemens Softswitch was selected for use in Europe. The switches are being integrated and tested through the program’s incremental development efforts. Lee noted that the program's European efforts are further ahead than the work in the United States.

The Army does not have a single VOIP service for all of its forces because of the different infrastructure requirements in each theater. Lee said that to meet urgent warfighter requirements in southwest Asia, the service has accelerated acquisitions to provide VOIP and other communications capabilities. Lee said PM NSC is now trying to integrate that region’s infrastructure and capabilities into the migration plan.

As part of the migration, the Army will stop acquiring time-division multiplexing equipment and begin phasing out that equipment from 2015 to 2024. However, Lee said it is expensive to completely convert an installation's older equipment to 100 percent VOIP capability. To meet that challenge, she said, the Army must devise new plans or use existing infrastructure as much as possible.

After the migration is complete, warfighters will have access to a range of services, such as instant messaging, video calls, conferencing and phone collaboration. VOIP capabilities also eliminate the need to physically reconfigure wires every time a phone is moved.

The Army’s VOIP capabilities are now provided as unclassified services on the Unclassified but Sensitive IP Router Network while classified services run on the Secret IP Router Network.

While those capabilities are in development, the Product Manager Installation Information Modernization Program has been fielding VOIP-enabled switches for several years to provide Army installations with VOIP capabilities. Lee said that once end-to-end VOIP capability is approved across DOD, the switches will provide a complete service.

Meanwhile, the Southwest Asia theater of operations is fielding a secure VOIP capability. SVOIP originated to meet the communications needs for tactical units, Lee said. It consists of commercial technology installed on SIPRNet. “What we’re challenged with right now is trying to capitalize on the Army’s current investment in SVOIP and migrate that into an architecture that, when our troops come home, can utilize the Army’s investment and continue the service once they come back to garrison,” Lee said.

Lee said that PM NSC also is exploring cutting-edge technologies that might not have official approval but could benefit the Army. The NSC can conduct technology demonstrations or pilot programs to determine whether a device is feasible, but she added that such test efforts are temporary until the capability meets all of the Army’s certification approvals. “Anything that really goes on the network on the installation level falls under our purview,” she said.

NSC also works with many commercial VOIP vendors and other companies that provide applications such as instant messaging. She said the Army continuously looks for new technologies and vendors to support its activities.

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