IT infrastructure in CONUS barely out of the Stone Age compared to the tactical environment

Homeward bound troops deserve latest tech tools comparable to those available in war zones, says Army CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence

Orders from the highest levels of the Defense Department to draw down operations in Afghanistan, shrink troop levels and reduce spending are driving the Army to shift priorities to matters within the borders of the continental United States, according to the service’s CIO.

“We’re going to apply the same rigor and discipline to the institutional Army as we have in the last 10 years to the operational Army,” Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, Army CIO, said March 19 at AFCEA Belvoir Industry Days at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. “It’s going to be key to this concept of reversibility that we have a ready-trained force based on the ability for us to deliver a modernized network.”

The Army’s focus has been on the ground level of operations, funding and servicing areas of need such as tactical communications. As a result, other areas, such as IT being used on U.S. bases, have received less attention and money. That’s going to change as the Army realigns under DODwide efficiency measures.

It’s an issue that was clearly illustrated when Lawrence was visiting a military outpost overseas, where she spoke with a general deployed in the theater who shed light on the parity between capabilities in the field and those on bases at home.

“He said, ‘You give me absolutely everything I need to command and control in the fight while deployed, but when I go back home to Fort Bragg, I go back to the Stone Ages.’ We stayed committed at the point, where our soldiers were at risk. Soldiers could deploy to the theater and you’ll have everything over IP, unlimited bandwidth ... whatever [joint urgent operational needs] there were, we filled,” Lawrence said. “But when they came back home, they were on the old, circuit-based switches; [video teleconferences] didn’t work; there was a lot of frustration.”

There’s a lot on the agenda for the Army as it turns its attention homeward, Lawrence said.

Cybersecurity efforts, including better network defense and a forcewide move toward thin-client capabilities, are high priority, as are ongoing efforts in enterprise e-mail, which Lawrence said is going so well “everybody is clamoring” to get onboard.

She added that the Army is going to “bite the bullet and redesign the entire architecture of the network inside of the continental U.S.”

“Today there are more than 500 low-level architectural entry points; that just makes us an absolute sieve,” she said. “What we have to do is collapse that behind about 20 regional-level architecture environments so we can put sensors on them and truly start doing some defense of our networks,” Lawrence said, pointing to a 2013 time frame for starting work.

The efforts are just part of broader moves to standardize Army command, control, communications and computing services while creating a force that has reversibility, she said. “It’s time to get right-size with the right talent," Lawrence said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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