Dec 31 2009

Army Reboot

The service modernizes its network infrastructure with a focus on EoIP — 'Everything over IP.'

Napoleon Bonaparte once famously declared that an army travels on its stomach. Today’s modern military travels on bits and bytes — information supplied in real time from command centers in the states to warfighters in foxholes. That’s why the Army is in the midst of a massive modernization to bring its communications and networking capabilities into this century.

The Installation Information

Infrastructure Modernization Program (I3MP), part of the Army’s $4 billion Infrastructure Modernization (IMOD) initiative, aims to rewire U.S. bases around the globe. From Fort Hood in Texas to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, technicians are ripping out old copper phone lines, analog switches and legacy network equipment, and replacing them with bandwidth-rich fiber connections and converged Internet Protocol networks.

Much of the Army’s legacy infrastructure consisted of separate stovepiped communications architectures, each with its own physical communications paths requiring extensive oversight and intervention to ensureconnectivity, says Lt. Col. Charles Wells, product manager of Defense communications systems for both Europe and Southwest Asia. I3MP moves the Army’s architecture toward conducting “Everything over IP” (EoIP) — converging voice, data and video traffic into a unified, Army-wide IP architecture.

EoIP “greatly reduces or eliminates much of the operations, maintenance and labor previously required to run several disparate networks,” Wells says. “It also greatly enhances war­fighter effectiveness by allowing for a seamless sharing of operational, tactical and strategic knowledge across the force.”

I3MP connects command posts and contingency operating bases directly to the Defense Department’s Global Information Grid, which itself is undergoing a huge bandwidth surge — from 45 megabit-per-second connections to up to 10 gigabits. Together, these infrastructure improvements are helping the Army consolidate hundreds of disparate data centers into 14 area processing centers (APCs), which will provide secure, centralized storage, e-mail and data backup services to Army operations around the world.

And the service is doing this entirely with commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment and services from companies such as Avaya, Cisco Systems, General Dynamics, Qwest Communications International, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Communications. This approach helps keep down costs while staying current with state of the art information technology, says Daniel J. Busby, vice president and general manager of General Dynamics Information Technology’s Army Infrastructure Sector.

“COTS equipment that drives industry best practices must survive the scrutiny, validation and ‘sharp elbows’ of the marketplace, which usually results in a better product,” says Busby.

APCs already in place at Grafenwöhr and Kaiserslautern in Germany have increased network security, reliability and operational efficiency, while also saving several million dollars in operations and maintenance costs, adds Wells.

All IP, All the Time

The practical effects of EoIP range far and wide. High-speed converged networks have provided troops in Iraq and Afghanistan faster access to video from remote security cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles, allowing them to strike while the targets are still hot. The same networks can also be used to let overseas personnel send video e-mail greetings to their families back home. As I3MP expands to incorporate more bases, it will enable new applications in distance learning, recruiting and telemedicine, as well as let troops develop new fighting skills without leaving the front lines.

Modernizing a facility’s backbone infrastructure lets the Army train as it fights, says Busby. “Because of I3MP, the Army can train in an interconnected net-centric environment and practice the skills necessary to fight on a networked, mobile battlefield,” he says.

I3MP will also give the Army a platform to evaluate cutting-edge technologies such as wireless intrusion detection systems (WIDS), which was not possible on its legacy networks. Using WIDS, bases can monitor wireless frequencies and prevent unauthorized access to their Wi-Fi networks. In 2005, the Army implemented its first WIDS system at Fort Monmouth, N.J. It’s currently sponsoring WIDS pilot projects in Mannheim, Germany, and Kaiserslautern, says Wells.

Another relatively new technology to play a role in I3MP is the next-generation IP Version 6. Last November, the Army mandated that I3MP would only field network switches with IPv6 hardwired in, part of its eventual transition to a dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 network next year. This keeps the Army in line with OMB Memorandum 05-22, which requires all agencies to have an IPv6-compatible backbone in place by June 30, 2008.

IPv6 could have a dramatic effect on how the Army wages war, says Chris Gunderson, a research associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and the principal investigator for the DOD-sponsored World Wide Consortium for the Grid Institute. Among other things, IPv6 expands the number of available IP addresses by several orders of magnitude, allowing virtually any object to be detectable across the Net. So, for example, the Army could have a different IP address for every bullet in every gun or place tiny sensors on every piece of gear and have them transmit their location over the network. Further, Gunderson says, IPv6’s point-to-point mesh networking capability could give warfighters a means to quickly set up secure wireless networks on the fly, and then collapse them as they chase enemies across the desert.

From Fortress to Foxhole

A massive rollout of converged IP networks offers challenges not often faced by corporations. In Southwest Asia, for example, one of the greatest challenges is an environment of rapidly changing and evolving requirements, says Wells. Are the contingency operating bases in Iraq going to exist for 24 or 48 months? What constitutes a “good enough standard” for I3MP in Iraq versus I3MP implementations at permanent bases?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, which is why the Army’s product managers have been embedded with war­fighters in each theater, allowing them to work closely with their counterparts to arrive at solutions on the spot.

Another question is how Defense budget constraints will impact the I3MP rollout. In 2006, the program executed nearly $270 million worth of infrastructure improvements, according to Wells. But the resources available for I3MP have been scaled back over the program’s next five years, which means projects may be re-prioritized to ensure that the Army’s critical near-term operational requirements are met.

Even so, I3MP will remain a vital part of the Army’s net-centric strategy, says Col. Scot C. Miller, project manager for Defense communications and Army switched systems.

“I3MP is a major player in fulfilling the Army Chief of Staff’s directive to have ‘a transformed Army,’ with agile capabilities and adaptive processes, powered by world-class network-centric access to knowledge, systems and services,” says Miller. “As the installation becomes the rear area of operations in the future, I3MP is essential to enabling the fortress-to-foxhole concept of operations.”