Army expands global infrastructure to better assist soldiers
Regional hubs to support troops at all phases of operation
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson has been the Army’s chief information officer since late 2007. Sorenson has spent more than 20 years in military information technology acquisition and has directed numerous science and technology integration programs for the Army.
He spoke with Defense Systems contributing editor Barry Rosenberg about the recently completed second Network Service Center Operational Evaluation, the Apps for the Army program and several pressing issues related to extending global networking capabilities.
DS: Let’s talk about the recently completed Network Service Operational Evaluation in Grafenwoehr, Germany. What did you want to accomplish with Opval II?
Sorenson: Opval II was framed as the dress rehearsal for what the chief of staff of the Army has requested we begin to deploy into the areas of operation, Iraq and Afghanistan, in fiscal 2011. Last year in Opval I, we simulated deployment of a brigade combat team into the [area of operations], and they were able to function as an organization in terms of collaborating with European partners and use their data applications, whether it was hosted at the [area processing center] at Fort Bragg or at Grafenwoehr. The whole concept of early collaboration, fight upon arrival, the notion of having enterprise services and access to their data and applications no matter where they were — those kind of concepts were basically validated.
This year, we actually had a brigade out of Fort Sill, Okla. — in this case it was the 75th Fires Brigade — physically deployed into the exercise and simulated operations as a Stryker brigade. So for them it was a complete morphing of what they do in terms of their real life — being an artillery brigade and simulating being a Stryker brigade in this exercise. We had a lot of the same successes; the notion of early collaboration, the access to their data whether they were at Fort Sill or when they deployed. We were also able to work on some of the enterprise aspects in terms of switching between their local capabilities to drawing their services and data from the area processing centers. We were able to do that three to four times faster than we did last year.
So on a technical basis, there was a lot of achievement there. I think operationally, the whole notion of [continuity of operations], with respect to having the ability to use the Fort Bragg APC or use the Grafenwoehr APC, and have 24/7 situational and disaster recovery at their disposal, in many cases, further validated the concepts that we demonstrated, for the most part, in Opval I.
DS: I remember that disaster recovery was an issue in last year’s operational evaluation in that it took hours to recover from an incident. Did the personnel do better this year?
Sorenson: That’s what I’m saying. I think this year they proved that it was achievable. We were doing a lot of instrumentation on the network itself. We had a whole group there from [ the Army Test and Evaluation Command], from Mitre and from [the Army Forces Command] evaluating the net and determining how was it functioning. I talked to a lot of the noncommissioned officers who were functioning in the command post about their operational view and what happened when they were drawing their data services from the APC versus their local server. And the commentary was, "Well, we could notice that there was a change in terms of latency." But when I asked them if the latency affected them from an operational standpoint, the answer was, "No." I think from a disaster recovery perspective we began to demonstrate that clearly there was the ability to absolutely deploy a COOP capability and validate that we could make this happen with the use of APCs.
DS: What work still needs to be done?
Sorenson: We still have some work to do in terms of identity management, the deployment of the [Host-Based Security System], which we did. We piloted it last time, and while it proved to be effective in the tactical systems and as we roll this out and it becomes the standard by which we are going to operate the network, we have to ensure that its deployment goes all the way to the edge. Because at the end of the day, as [the Cyber Command] and Army Force Cyber [unit] stand up, this is going to be one of the toolsets that is going to ensure that the network is secure and that soldiers can rely upon it.
We did some piloting on that, and that is a need that has to be further refined as we go forward, especially as we deploy this unit next year. I think, too, the whole notion of some of the training that they went through — I think this year we got it about right. Training in terms of getting these units to trust the network as compared to, "If I can’t find the server, I don’t know if the network is going to be there.”
It is what I talked about with the latency piece. Getting the soldiers to recognize that if the network goes down and you have to [go to] COOP and you are relying upon the APC to provide your source for data applications, it’s not fatal. You may not have the immediate response as when you were functioning on your local server, but you will be able to do what you need to do. From the standpoint of instrumentation — and I haven’t seen this data yet, but I know Mitre is doing a deep dive from a technical standpoint — how did the digits pass? Where did we find some of choke points? What do we need to do to refine from a technical standpoint? That’s still more work to be done.
DS: What needs to be done from the perspective of the Global Network Enterprise Construct to give that capability to Brigade Combat Teams beginning in 2011?
Sorenson: The fixed regional hub node at Fort Bragg, N.C., is right now under construction so we’re getting that established. We’ve modified the original schedule, so instead of doing one at Fort Bragg and one at Camp Roberts, Calif., this year, and doing one in the Pacific next year, based upon requests from the Pacific, we have modified the schedule and are now working with the commander of the 311th Theater Signal Command [which deploys to Hawaii and Korea] to establish a fixed regional hub presence in the Pacific. So now the last fixed regional hub will be at Camp Roberts.
The one that we’re putting in the Pacific is probably going to go into a temporary site for a period of time because it was not on the docket for fiscal 2010, but we’re using some temporary facilities and capabilities to establish that. But there, too, I think with the one at Fort Bragg…we now have the key place established here for a unit to deploy and have that end-to-end connectivity as they move into the AOR.
DS: Do you think it will be done by 2011?
Sorenson: I think we’re going to be close. I’m not completely convinced we’ll be there with all the data center consolidation. That, at the end of the day, has become the long pole in the tent. I think the fixed regional hub nodes are progressing on schedule. We’ve got the funding to get that done.… We’re modifying the active directory to accommodate and improve our ability to have a global presence for single identity, and so forth. With respect to the data centers, we’re going to be close but not exactly where we need to be with full functionality. We will have some functionality, but it will not be what we had thought about in terms of our design at the outset about two years ago. But it will be close.
DS: A year ago, prior to LandWarNet, you planned to implement a number of "data stewards" to develop authoritative data sources. What’s been your progress?
Sorenson: On that I think we’ve moved out pretty smartly. We have done a lot with establishing data stewards, which are essentially those individuals within a particular organization of command who are responsible for seeking out and determining authoritative data sources, which they then put forward to the data council for approval. So as time goes on, everybody recognizes these are published, registered, authoritized data sources and that are to be used to do Army business.
They are making some great strides in supporting the effort of the vice chiefs of staffs with respect to the suicide prevention task force, for example, by culling through different data sources out of the medical community, the personnel community, Human Resources Command, etc., to collect different, authoritative data sources and find the systemic issues with respect to suicide prevention.
It hasn’t worked out perfectly. We’ve had some problems with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). There were a number of different hurdles they had to cross to make this data available to folks external to the Army, such as psychologists. I think from the standpoint of support, it’s been good.
DS: Also in the past year, you rolled the Apps for the Army program. Are there particular applications you want to see developed?
Sorenson: We are trying not to get to a point where we are prescribing what it is they develop an application for. So we identified a number of categories: information access, training, mission specific [such as battle command], location awareness, warfighting [also associated with battle command], and [career management]. So we had these categories somewhat defined, but not overly prescribed.
At the end of the day, it is just like what I think is taking place with the Apple iPhone or the Android where applications have been developed. Depending on what the market has determined to be important, people resonate to that, they download that app and they use that app. I’ve tried to let the demand cycle from the solider determine the priority, as opposed to me dictating from above what needs to be done. At the end of the day, we will find utility in that because who knows better what needs to be done than those who are essentially trying to get things done? What we have seen in some of the apps submitted is that they are all about trying to improve what they do on a daily basis.
One that was rather intriguing was an informational node. I can’t think of how many times I’ve driven into a post in the middle of the night thinking, "I’d like to go to the gym tomorrow; I wonder where it is and if it is open?" Or you arrive on the post, and instead of seeing the flyers, you can download an application to see what is taking place at the soldier development center, what is taking place at the family center, what is taking place at the PX. That is an intriguing one from a standpoint from morale welfare and improving how people as a community live.
On the other hand, there were some that came in with respect to trying to measure shock waves from an [improvised explosive device]. And so you have ends of the scale where soldiers have said, "Here’s a problem that I think needs to be solved, and I have some interest in solving this problem." They go off and develop it, put it on the site, and let others not only use it but also improve it.
DS: What are your short-term priorities?
Sorenson: Right now, we continue to focus on a couple of issues relating to GNEC. We’re working enterprise e-mail consolidation. We’ve got [a request for proposals] coming out on area processing centers to get to access from the standpoint of cloud computing in the future.
But more to the point is preparing a unit and preparing our support for this unit to deploy next year and use GNEC as a capability. There is also the notion taking place now with the Afghan mission network and in trying to sort through how we use GNEC in conjunction with the Afghan mission network, while making sure from an operational standpoint that no matter whether [personnel] are at the post camp station or deployed, this concept we call GNEC can support them through all phases of the operation.
Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.