May 18 2021

Army Prepares for Its Unified Network of the Future

The service branch plans to combine its enterprise and tactical networks as part of a wider push to modernize its infrastructure.

The Army operates many networks, but they can be broadly broken down into two main categories: There is its tactical network to support the war fighter, and its enterprise network to support office operations and essentially everything else.

The service branch is looking to unify those disparate networks into a single, cohesive architecture, and expects to unveil its plan to do so in the coming months, with actual network unification work starting next year. That approach is key to enabling soldiers to communicate seamlessly with their counterparts, no matter what domain they are residing in — on land, at sea, in the air, space or cyberspace.

“We are finalizing what we are calling the Army Network Plan,” Lt. Gen. John Morrison, deputy chief of staff and G-6, the top uniformed officer managing the Army’s IT, said in April during AFCEA’s TechNet Augusta virtual event, according to FedScoop.

Morrison has set the network unification as a core pillar for the Army, alongside enabling secure, multidomain operations, reforming and operationalizing cybersecurity processes, and driving balanced, efficient and effective network and cybersecurity investments.

The Benefits of a Unified Network Architecture for the Army

Morrison said the Army will rely on commercial vendors to help it unify its networks and that it is working toward releasing a plan in the next few months that the private sector can examine as the Army engages with companies.

In the “summer and fall we will have the architecture discussion,” he said, according to FedScoop.

“It lays out that unifying requirement to operate, maintain and defend the network, and that is a significant milestone,” Morrison said, according to Federal News Network. “No more will we be buying one set of network operations or security tools for the enterprise, and another set for tactical. We will be buying unifying capabilities that allow us to seamlessly see the network, and seamlessly secure and defend the network from end-to-end.”

The Army is trying to balance access, speed and security in its networks, FedScoop reports, and that is a key challenge. By unifying its networks, the Army hopes to enable smoother data transfer between systems and machines via automation. However, that seamless transfer of data also needs to be secured.

“This is one of those effective drills that I think will allow us to apply our resources in a more efficient manner but brings a level of security to the network that, quite frankly, I don’t think we have right now,” Morrison said, according to FedScoop.

As part of its network revamp, the Army is also looking to be able to easily segment data that needs to be sent to soldiers in milliseconds — such as targeting data — and data that can afford to be sent at a slower pace.

Segmenting that traffic, which is something the Army will need to rely on industry to help with, will allow the Army to conserve network capacity in battlefield situations.

“We are also concerned about overwhelming a limited network, particularly in a denied, degraded, intermittent or limited environment,” Army Brig. Gen. Rob Parker, deputy director of Joint Staff J-6, said during an AFCEA DC virtual event last week, according to FedScoop. “We are looking to industry to help us find technological solutions to work through that.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: How will 5G help the military modernize its networks?

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