What news I learned at the DISA show: A reporter's notebook

Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg spent three days at the Defense Information Systems Agency customer forum in Tampa the week of May 7, attending many of the sessions, walking the floor and questioning DISA Director Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins Jr. and Defense Department CIO Teri Takai in a pair of private media briefings.

Here are some random tidbits of conversation, overheard dialogue, answers to questions and news from the show.

* Like many military installations, the DISA campus at Fort Meade has been off limits to cell phones and mobile devices due to the need for secrecy and the risk of important wireless communications being intercepted. That rule has slackened a bit now that Hawkins has authorized the first-ever limited deployment of wireless capabilities at Fort Meade.

Related coverage:

DOD mobile strategy behind the eight-ball compared to industry

* This year’s CIO panel was once again moderated by Takai and featured a number of military 6’s (CIOs), who engaged in a heated discussion on enterprise e-mail. No way, no how will the Marine Corps migrate to DISA-managed e-mail, said USMC CIO Brig. Gen. Kevin Nally. "We're not drinking the Kool-Aid," he said, adding that senior USMC officers have told him they will figuratively shoot him in the chest “if you make me go to @mail.mil.” Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen concurred, saying the Navy already has an enterprise system in the form of NMCI. Takai let the Navy/Marine 6’s vent, then cut off the discussion, saying: “As everyone can see I still have a lot of work to do.”

Later, in a media briefing, she added that the key is identity management and that “identify management will require a certain level of uniformity.” Though that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the services must follow the path of the Army to DISA-managed e-mail.

* Speaking of enterprise e-mail, Hawkins confirmed that the Air Force has agreed in principle to migrate to DISA-managed e-mail, following the Army, the Joint Staff, European Command and Africa Command. There’s no firm roadmap for the migration at this point, but it’s going to happen, he said.

* The military is tired of pictures and videos being posted on the Internet of soldiers and Marines holding up enemy body parts or urinating on dead combatants. As a result, "we're going to come down pretty hard" on social media, said Nally.

* The new Air Force chief information officer is going to be Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, who is presently vice commander of Air Force Space Command. During the 6’s session moderated by Takai, he said he transitions to the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon June 6.

* Even though the war in Iraq has ended and the war in Afghanistan will be winding down, Hawkins said that he doesn’t expect there will be a reduction in satellite bandwidth requirements.

* Who’s in and who’s out on the full and open portion of DISA’s Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition (FCSA) contract for satellite bandwidth: As it was told to me by more than one insider, companies still in on the full and open contract are Artel, SES, Intelsat General, DRS and Vizada. Companies that are out include Harris CapRock, Northrop Grumman and Cobham. Harris CapRock has already filed a protest, and a senior official said he hopes the protest will be cleared in about 60 days instead of the full 100 days allowed.

Industry is concerned that the protest delay will cause some of the task orders in the bridge contract that would eventually go to the winners of the full and open competition to instead go the already named winners of the small-business competition. Senior officials told me that won’t be true, and that maybe one or two contracts originally scheduled for the full and open winners will go to the small-business winners instead.

* Both Takai and Hawkins said total DOD data centers will be reduced to about 100. The roadmap to get there is set to be released in four to five months, but it will likely take years, said Takai.

* DISA director Hawkins' goals are: see with clarity (situational awareness), communicate with certainty; navigate with accuracy; and strike with precision, including non-kinetic means.

* Why doesn’t anybody use the telephone anymore? That’s what Nally wanted to know, saying he’s only gotten two calls in the last week, one from his mother and another from his son. He would much prefer to have his counterparts telephone him to engage in an actual conversation instead of e-mailing him, particularly if it’s related to a secret matter. Takai’s response: How will I ever get in touch with you?

* The Future Mission Network, the follow on to the Afghan Mission Network that brings coalition partners into some U.S.-secret communications, won’t be a costly, ground-up program, said Hawkins. There will not be an “enormous financial tag” for the Future Mission Network.

* What’s the most passé term in cyber: “information assurance.” Takai said information assurance sounds like something that needs to be passively checked instead of actively addressed. Nally said the term “information assurance” is geeky, and “Marines aren’t geeks.”

* The military has dived in head first on the use of mobile devices, but Nally is not totally convinced of its applicability to the tactical environment. Do Marines “need” mobile devices, or is it that they just “want” them, he asked?

* There are approximately 50 pilot programs among the defense agencies related to the use of mobile devices. “My concern is that those 50 pilots will become 50 operational programs,” said Takai. “They’re getting out ahead of us, and once deployed it will be hard to get them back.” Halvorsen agreed that “pilots are getting out of hand, but the money being spent is relatively small.” Army Deputy CIO Mike Kreiger added that the “miniscule investment (in mobile) will provide huge benefits in productivity.” Basla said “mobility is here to stay,” and that the Air Force is “necking down to one pilot.”

About the Author

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

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