Massive Defense IT Overhaul Yields Access Anytime, on Any Device

June 2015
Topics: Joint Operations, Cybersecurity, Systems Modernization, Combat Service Support, Command and Control
MITRE is working with the DoD on a multi-year IT transformation, the Joint Information Environment. It will provide warfighters and mission partners with better access to information, strengthen cybersecurity, and reduce costs by billions of dollars.
U.S. Army sergeant during a military training exercise.

The Department of Defense is the nation's largest employer, with more than 1.4 million men and women on active duty, 718,000 civilian personnel, 900,000 contractors, and another 1.1 million people in the National Guard and Reserve forces. All these individuals use a lot of computing power. According to a 2013 whitepaper by General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "The DoD's information technology requires thousands of operational systems, hundreds of globally unconnected data centers, and more than seven million computers and IT devices."

The value of information technology to the warfighter would be difficult to overestimate. As Admiral James Winnefeld said at the 6th Annual Joint Warfighting IT Day, "The brains belong to our warfighters, but the nerves are the network that you create. Information technology is now a central driver of combat effectiveness. Providing our warfighters with the right IT and doing it in an agile way is just as important as providing them with the right weapons."

While existing technology has served the military well in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places, the current shortcomings with interoperability, increased cyber vulnerabilities, rapid pace of technological change, and higher costs pose significant challenges.

Since 2010, MITRE has supported the DoD's Joint Information Environment (JIE), which will help modernize capabilities across the various services during the next several years. The benefits will include better access to information that strengthens military capabilities, stronger cybersecurity to guard against intrusions by adversaries, and cost reductions in the billions of dollars.

Breaking Through Barriers to Crucial Information

Frank Petroski, who directs the JIE portfolio of projects for MITRE, explains that in the modern military, a great deal of the logistics and intelligence happens back at home bases in the U.S. or overseas. Different agencies built these capabilities over time, resulting in separate "silos" of information. That can make it difficult for warfighters to access the information they need on a timely basis.

"Let's say our warfighters need intelligence support to counter a particular threat. They may need to talk to someone back in the States who might be able to offer advice about the right information to use for their mission," he says. "If they encounter a wall of network silos while trying to find that person, they may be forced to make decisions without the information that could have made a difference. That can cost lives."

General Dempsey's whitepaper summarized the purpose of JIE: "The JIE will be the trusted IT framework that will enable us to share information when needed, with any mission partner, regardless of location, device, or service provider…. We must move past our vision of IT as an array of business systems that function like a utility, and begin to assemble, train, and operate them as a core warfighting capability."

Some of the primary characteristics of JIE include transitioning from network-centric to data-centric solutions; rapid delivery and use of integrated cloud services accessible from anywhere, on any device; and a scalable platform allowing flexibility and mission collaboration. JIE has already reached several major milestones, including the launch of a cloud-based enterprise email system, the initial deployments of upgraded network capabilities, and the consolidation of hundreds of data centers.

Greater Bandwidth Benefits the Warfighter

MITRE's JIE projects include supporting a complete reorganization of the DoD email system, and leading a study to compare the Navy's Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) functions and capabilities with the JIE’s. Of particular importance, MITRE worked with the DoD to deploy key technologies for boosting bandwidth to the level necessary for enterprise-level systems. These technologies are vital to an agreement involving the Army, Air Force, and Defense Information Systems Agency that will avoid over $1 billion in future costs. (For more on these programs, see "Three Ways MITRE Is Helping the Military Save Time, Money, and Lives," below.)  

David DeVries, the DoD's acting principal deputy CIO, offered an example of why these changes are crucial at the JIE Planning Summit hosted at MITRE in the fall of 2014: "The Defense Logistics Agency [combat support agency that provides supplies and services to America's military forces worldwide] doesn't actually move packages through the Internet. They move numbers and exchange information. They don’t need their own data center and network to complete their mission—they just need them as services."

As General Dempsey stated in his whitepaper, "The ultimate beneficiary of the JIE will be the commander in the field and forces at the tactical edge. JIE will allow better integration of information technologies, operations, and cybersecurity at a tempo that supports today's fast-paced operational conditions."

—by Bill Eidson

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