Army changes how it acquires, develops IT systems

NIE speeds communication, interaction between industry and Army

The Army is changing how it acquires and fields new technologies to transition to a more networked, agile force, according to the service's CIO.

How the service is doing this in networking and communications was outlined by Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army’s CIO, at the MILCOM conference in Baltimore, Md., on Nov. 8.

One of her missions is reforming the service’s IT systems because a decade of warfare has created multiple networks that must be folded into a single enterprise, Lawrence said. 

Lawrence said the Army must begin acquiring and working with several “game changing” technologies. Some of those capabilities include pushing the enterprise to the edge of the network to move data from the cloud to warfighter, she said.

She cited the Afghan Mission Network (AMN) as an example of technology that allows forces to move their data as they deploy. Lawrence said the 82nd Airborne Division installed the AMN in its headquarters, which allowed it to virtually move its data when it deployed. This kept the unit from having to physically move its servers and there was no lag in the data because it was constantly being updated. “You don’t have to take everything with you,” she said.

The service is also exploring authentication technologies such as single user identities. Lawrence said the Army’s enterprise e-mail system allows warfighters to access data anywhere, but there is more to it than just e-mail systems. “It’s not about e-mail, it’s really about identity,” she said.

The Army is also consolidating its data centers and plans to remove 50 percent of the applications currently available on its networks. Users also have the option of loading their favorite apps into the Army’s cloud, she said.

The service is also dealing with technology gaps in providing communications to front line forces. The Network Integration Evaluations (NIE) held at Fort Bliss, Texas, and the nearby White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, have been an important part of this work, Lawrence said. She said after the last NIE, the service approached industry with a list of 52 gaps soldiers had identified.

Those evaluations allows industry and the military to work out problems on the spot. She cited the example of a program of record that brought in its technology to an NIE this spring. One company of soldiers was using this technology while another company used a commercial product. The soldiers so overwhelmingly preferred the commercial equipment and the potential costs savings were so beneficial, that Defense Department changed its mind and is delivering the commercial gear to troops. “This has totally changed how we do acquisition,” she said.

Another goal for the Army is building a single networking and management environment, Lawrence said. This will be emphasized at the next NIE in spring 2012, she added.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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