Netcom focuses on enhancing network service centers

Interview with Maj. Gen. Susan Lawrence, Army Netcom/9th Signal Command

Maj. Gen. Susan Lawrence is commander of the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (Netcom) and 9th Signal Command. Before assuming command of Netcom/9th Signal Command, Lawrence was the commanding general of the 5th Signal Command and chief information officer and assistant chief of staff of Army Europe and Seventh Army. She also served as director of command, control, communications and computers at Central Command.

Lawrence spoke recently with Defense Systems contributing editor Barry Rosenberg about the outcome of network tests, boosting communications infrastructure in Afghanistan, and dealing with staff shortages and budgetary challenges.

DS: What were some of the most important things learned during the Network Service Center (NSC) Operational Validation (OpVal) in Germany?

Lawrence: The recent NSC OpVal successfully demonstrated that NSCs can host battle command applications out of Area Processing Centers (APCs) on behalf of a brigade-level organization, enabling fight-upon-arrival capabilities and enhanced continuity of operations. As the Army's first NSC OpVal, this initial demonstration illustrated the NSC's potential effectiveness. By standardizing network operations, network management, collaborative tools and application hosting, we proved that the NSC and its supporting pillars — the Regional Hub Node, APC, and Theater Network Operations and Security Center — provide warfighters unparalleled access to the Global Information Grid.

The OpVal provided us numerous lessons learned and opportunities to adjust our global network enterprise implementation strategies. First, and perhaps foremost, it helped to underscore the ability, ingenuity and dedication of the soldiers and civilians of the command. People are at the heart of the network. Their work on this proved once again the importance of developing and maintaining a well-trained, innovative, professional workforce. On the technical front, we used a new technique called “cross-strapping” that extends the range of satellite communications. We now also better understand the complexities involved in replicating data between an APC and a unit’s local battle command and control systems server. The hands-on portion of the exercise was also important, allowing us to identify the type of training soldiers will need to successfully perform virtual-machine management. Finally, we quickly became aware of the need for a standardized enterprise ticketing system, and the enormous amount of coordination required between IT professionals supporting the various theaters.

The operational and technical lessons learned from this initial demonstration will greatly enhance future operational validation exercises. More importantly, with further demonstrations and continued refinement of tactics, techniques and procedures, the NSC concept is well on its way to becoming a standardized process for deploying and employing expeditionary forces around the globe. We'll have to do further investigation across the various [doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities] domains to ensure sufficient resources are available to fully enable and leverage the NSC concept, but the continued maturation of the NSC concept is well on its way. By including it in other theater-level exercises and experiments, as well as mitigating other operational, technical and training shortfalls we find, one day very soon we'll be able to realize the full capabilities of the NSC for the warfighter.

DS: It has been a number of months since the NSC OpVal. How have the design, construct and operation of the NSC evolved at this point based on lessons learned?

Lawrence: I think our most important lesson was that the basic NSC construct is sound. The NSCs must allow the kind of always-on, real-time access to the network and network services that our warfighters need on a global scale. The kind of network service I’m talking about is what you find in everyday life. You don’t even think twice when you make a call on your cell phone or connect to the Internet on your home computer; you expect your wireless company and Internet service provider to provide a reliable connection. That is the type of access that the NSCs will provide and the kind of capability that the OpVal demonstrated. Another critical dimension was the absolutely key and essential role of the installation network enterprise center — every user’s entry point into the enterprise — and the value added of our battle command assistance teams.

We’ve been continuing to mature the technical model by examining the complex technologies that were demonstrated for the first time in the OpVal, with an eye toward making them easier and more efficient to execute. For example, one of the areas we have been spending a lot of time on improving is the performance of the battle command data replication between the unit and the APC. A thorough analysis has been conducted in a lab environment, and we will be testing a new replication strategy during OpVal II. Our goal is to reduce replication time, thereby better enabling the unit to fight upon arrival. In the technical realm, we’ve also made some changes to the client/server architecture in the deployed battle command systems that will simplify routing changes in the Enterprise. This will make it faster and easier to transition a unit between theaters.

DS: How is Netcom dealing with the chronic staff shortage mentioned at the 2009 LandWarNet Conference?

Lawrence: Personnel shortages are obviously a problem everywhere in the Army. We have worldwide commitments that require leaders to make hard decisions about resources. Having said that, our personnel challenge is especially difficult. Our work requires highly specialized training, personnel that are committed to continual learning, and the experience that comes from doing. Lining up those requirements against Army resources has often proven a tough test of our ingenuity.

We're doing all we can to alleviate key signal officer and enlisted shortages through retention, accessions and increased training seats. Additionally, we use available reserve component soldiers and Department of the Army civilians to fill critical shortfalls. When appropriate, we augment the force with contract personnel in mission areas as well. These approaches help, but the truth is we're still short-staffed, and it is only through the sincere commitment, dedication and long hours of the [signal personnel], both military and civilian, that we accomplish our mission operating the Global Network Enterprise.

DS: What's the thinking behind changing the name Director of Information Management (DOIM) to Network Enterprise Center? Is it just a name change, or is there more to it?

Lawrence: Well, first off, it’s much more than a name change. The DOIMs are transforming into fundamentally new organizations — Network Enterprise Centers — as part of the implementation of the Global Network Enterprise Construct. This transformation will align their internal processes with the GNEC model, eliminating network capability gaps for units preparing for, deploying to and transitioning from real-world operations, and it dramatically improves our network defense posture by applying globally consistent network security policies and procedures. This yields economies and efficiencies, improves effectiveness, and enhances our ability to share information with joint forces and coalition partners. This transformation is occurring in all Army theaters. We've created a new alignment of command and control responsibility and an enterprise approach to the security and management, which improves network capabilities and supports operations through all phases of the fight. The new NEC name is a visible way of demonstrating all of these changes.

DS: The Defense Department is implementing a troop surge in Afghanistan. Is there also a network enterprise technology surge to support them? If so, in what areas?

Lawrence: We plan to increase our support of current mission requirements through commercialization and infrastructure improvements. A big part of this will come in the form of communications upgrades to key [command, control, communications and computers] facilities at Kabul, Bagram and Kandahar. Several forward operating bases in Afghanistan have also been deemed enduring sites and are in the design and implementation stages to support strategic communications. The establishment of Defense Information Systems Service Delivery nodes in Afghanistan is a big part of this as well. They will provide a fiber-optic network for increased operational capacity and network diversity. Finally, the refurbishment and upgrade of several deployable Ku-band Earth terminals will increase the bandwidth for greater input and output connectivity within Afghanistan and Southwest Asia.

These significant changes will greatly increase network enterprise services for warfighting efforts in Afghanistan. I should also mention the impact that the completion of the Fixed Regional Hub Node at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, will have on all of this. This hub provides up to 48 links of Frequency Division Multiple Access and Time Division Multiplex Access satellite connectivity, as well as 12 links of mounted battle command on-the-move and airborne command and control to support warfighter communications in Afghanistan. These are significant changes and will greatly enhance warfighting efforts.

DS: When you come into work each day, what is on your desk and what tasks do you tackle first?

Lawrence: The times I do find myself at my desk, the first thing I see is my schedule, which is normally packed with meetings, staff updates, office visits and video teleconferences. Next are my coffee and my e-mail, but not necessarily in that order. Once I get through the critical e-mails, it's usually time for my first meeting.

DS: What are your fiscal 2010 priorities?

Lawrence: Maintaining momentum for the GNEC remains my top priority. The GNEC is all about ensuring that the warfighter remains at the center of the network [and] that the squad in a firefight in Afghanistan is never out of touch with the capabilities it needs to fight and win. Next is support to Cyber Command and the future Army Cyber Command.

As I mentioned, we are deeply involved in current cyber operations. We plan to do everything possible to share our experiences and expertise with these organizations as they stand up. We are also identifying requirements for improving capabilities based on lessons learned from OpVal I. Securing the resources to invest in OpVal II, the next set of network operations and defense tools, and the build out of APCs…are also important priorities. Finally, we'll continue to support Base Realignment and Closure [efforts], transition our NECs to the theater signal commands, and support the migration to enterprise activities such as enterprise e-mail, enterprise service desk, enterprise global address list, as well as continue current operations. We've got a lot on our plate, but I'm confident we will realize these priorities in the next year.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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