JIE is linchpin of next-generation classified cloud

DISA and the services are working to synchronize efforts toward developing, fielding a Joint Information Environment that promotes interoperability.

Constructing and securing a classified cloud hinges to a growing extent on an overarching framework known as the Joint Information Environment. JIE takes in nearly all key DOD IT efforts and will specify a security architecture that all three services will be held to.

In short, JIE is one of the largest joint IT effort the U.S. military has ever attempted. For now, Pentagon leaders are working to ensure that all three services are on board with the initiative as they look to the first stages of implementation. The goal is interoperable cloud-based networks and services that will be able to deliver secure voice, data and intelligence where and when they are needed.

Plans released recently by the Defense Information Systems Agency also call for incorporating new cyber operations capabilities within JIE that the agency refers to as an “analytical cloud.” This component would, for example, enable big data techniques for ferreting out network attacks and insider threats.

The effort to develop a joint classified cloud comes as senior DOD leaders seek to balance “ends, ways and means” as budget sequestration forces them to choose between military capabilities or capacity. Explained Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: “We will have fewer means with which to achieve our national security ends, so we need to do our best to sharpen the edge on the military instrument of power in the most effective ways we can. Much of that sharpening right now is focused on IT.”

Winnefeld and others note some “institutional resistance” to JIE. While the effort “not a panacea,” he acknowledged, “it aims to provide ... a shared IT infrastructure and a common set of enterprise services all under a single security architecture.”

JIE will include networked operation centers, data hubs and an identity management system with cloud-based apps and services. Along with allowing operations at the edge of the network using any device, JIE is intended to accelerate the “collapsing” of network command and control nodes while reducing DOD’s network management overhead. 

To that end, U.S. European Command opened an enterprise operations center in July 2013 as a sort of JIE prototype intended to consolidate dozens of command and control nodes. Pacific and U.S. operations centers are expected to be rolled out over the next year or so.

Securing the classified cloud through JIE’s architecture remains a priority, and senior IT officials believe they can leverage cloud capabilities without sacrificing security.  “Our airmen should be able to access their information from any device they use anywhere in the world,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, the Air Force’s CIO. “Some may be hosted commercially, like public web pages. Others might be hosted in a private cloud to ensure greater control.”

Basla said the Air Force is looking for areas where the service can help lead with JIE implementation. To that end, Air Force commands are working on operational baselines “that lay the foundation for interoperability and information sharing across” the Air Force. Those systems will be designed and fielded “within the security and architectural specifications of the” JIE, Basla said.

DISA is responsible for managing the technical aspects of JIE design and implementation. Among its responsibilities is developing security standards within an overall secure architecture and working out details like access issues and identity management. 

DISA Director Lt. General Ronnie Hawkins has expressed some misgivings about whether JIE’s secure architecture should be considered “single,” but insists his agency is “on track” to synchronize JIE development as “an incremental process.”

A key role will be played by the JIE Technical Synchronization Office, which is led by DISA and includes service representatives. “All the services have engineering specialties within the Joint Technical Synchronization Office,” Hawkins said. “We are building up that office.”

An executive committee overseeing JIE development was scheduled to meet in late September. The panel is chaired by DOD CIO Teri Takai, Army Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, CIO of the Joint Staff, and Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander. 

“JIE is going to leverage the investments that we have today,” Bowman stressed. “We’re going to have to look at those investments that we’ve got going and decide which we should continue and which ones we should change. “

Bowman went on to warn, “JIE is not a platform that people can hook their trailer to to get their program funded. Some are trying to do that today” while others “are waiting for it to go away.”

One way to nail down security is through better standards for identity management. “We need to have security [adhering] to a standard,” Bowman added, noting that DISA is working on those specs. “User-based access, access to the right data based on who you are….that’s the end state,” he said.

As for intelligence and “special access programs,” Bowman added that “there ought to be a cloud for a lot of” the special access programs. “That’s another area that we’re going to be looking at.”

Either way, “We can’t continue operating our networks the way we do today with different guys operating a portion of the network and not worrying about the rest of the network,” Bowman continued. “If somebody is operating outside what we need to do for security reasons, we need to change that. For interoperability reasons, we need to do the same.”

As budget uncertainty continues to hover over the Pentagon, key stakeholders continue to back JIE as the best way to deliver a secure classified cloud that provides greater interoperability. Still, senior officials concede that nothing less than a culture change will be required to take JIE from the drawing board to the battlefield.

DISA’s Hawkins, for one, thinks the coming generational shift in the U.S. military will help promote the joint effort where previous attempts have often failed. 

“Aside from the budget, [the] toughest nut to crack is to inculcate within the next generation of leaders and operators the capabilities that they need to do in the joint environment,” Hawkins said. “We need to get more people [into] the joint environment and not leave them in their particular service [because] you can’t do it alone.”

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