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CHIPS Articles: Interview with Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson

Interview with Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson
Army Director CIO/G-6
By CHIPS Magazine - October-December 2009
One of the critical initiatives for the Army CIO/G-6 is transforming LandWarNet (LWN) through the Global Network Enterprise Construct (GNEC) strategy. LWN is the Army's part of the Global Information Grid technology infrastructure that enables Soldiers to “reach back” for data, in the form of high-definition intelligence products, voice, video and data.

GNEC is the focused, time-phased, prioritized, resource-sensitive Army-wide strategy to transition LandWarNet from many loosely affiliated independent networks into a truly global capability that is designed, deployed and managed as a single integrated enterprise.

As part of GNEC, the Army issued a Request for Information (RFI) Aug. 17 to seek vendor recommendations for commercially managed enterprise messaging and collaboration services. The two chief drivers for the RFI are to provide Soldiers a single e-mail address, along with collaboration functions, that would be accessible from anywhere in the world throughout their career and to reduce operating costs.

The cost savings will come from changing the current paradigm of Army installations hosting and supporting their own e-mail exchanges to an enterprise model of hosting e-mail services at centralized data centers.

Lt. Gen. Sorenson and the Army Signal Corps led a series of discussions and learning sessions about GNEC, LWN and security and cyber initiatives at the LandWarNet Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in August. The discussion was so compelling CHIPS asked Lt. Gen. Sorenson to discuss the GNEC strategy and other Army technology efforts.

CHIPS: Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said in his address to the LandWarNet Conference that Signal staff must work to make systems and networks accessible to warfighters and support staff while at the same time assuring that networks and systems are safe. What is the right balance?

Sorenson: We need to improve operational capabilities and take advantage of many commercial systems and yet, at the same time, we have to provide adequate security to ensure that the systems and data are such that the users can trust them.

In some cases, we have certainly been conservative with respect to security, probably to the point that we have limited, or in many cases hindered, our ability to take advantage of some of the commercial technologies to advance capabilities, specifically, with social networking sites (SNS). These sites clearly provide some operational benefits; yet it is a domain where there is evidence of malicious activity. We must ensure they don't create an operational security violation.

We are trying to improve our enterprise architecture such that we are protecting what we call the 'coins of the realm,' those specific aspects of the network that you do not want to have compromised. Part of our strategy now is setting up area processing centers to reduce the number of points of presence on the network, so that we have a consolidated number of centers where different organizations across the Army can draw services, but leave network management to a number of centers that are highly standardized in terms of their tool sets, as well as function, so they can better manage the security of the network. That's part of the enterprise architecture.

The second thing is that we are trying to consolidate some of our active directory capabilities. As we have proliferated the number of active directories throughout the Army, we have so many that they can't see each other. We have difficulties making sure they are all secure. A lot of consolidation is taking place, both in the area of processing centers and our consolidation of active directory capabilities, to get to an improved security posture across the board.

Going back to what Gen. Chiarelli was talking about, his point was that in many cases there have been policies written about security that do not get challenged adequately as we are trying to bring an operational capability to the forefront. He is absolutely insistent upon having a secure network, but at the same time, we have to be smart about this.

As an example, in COMSEC, communications security, we are right now working on something called Suite B. Suite B COMSEC is leveraging encryption capabilities that are now resident within the financial industry which has an enormous vested interest in security to prevent fraud and financial crimes.

In some cases, the financial industry has built a capable system for encryption that we in the Army could leverage — giving us enough security to satisfy what Soldiers need on the battlefield but not restricting our ability to deliver the network.

We have examples in theater where Soldiers say the information presented in the forefront of the battlefield is cutting edge and very critical information, but within a few minutes, it becomes historical information.

Therefore, why can't we make sure that we get everybody that situational awareness and maybe, in some cases, take a little risk because within a few minutes it is going to become obsolete anyway? Clearly, Soldiers want to get the information that they need without having the security barriers to crawl through all the time.

There is no inconsistency with what Gen. Chiarelli said versus what we hear from the field. It is the management of polarities. What information is required at the edge versus what security classification do you need to have? These discussions are taking place not only for the network; I think you see that in the Intel community as well.

CHIPS: How would you rate technology and systems interoperability with joint and coalition partners?

Sorenson: Working with our partners right now has certainly been challenging. If I had to rate it, I would give us a 'C' at best.

With our coalition partners, as well as nongovernmental organizations that participate in some of our operations, we have [protected] sensitive information on our networks to the point that we can't provide our partners the data they need.

When you get into coalition warfare and are fighting side-by-side with a partner, and you have the intelligence situational awareness, you have the understanding of the enemy and the friendly situation, but because they don't have a particular clearance, you can't share with them. It begins to be somewhat dysfunctional in terms of conducting combined operations.

We are working hard in OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) to make data more accessible and more visible to our coalition partners, and I think we are making some great progress.

When we get to working with the sister services, from a land component perspective, we are doing a lot with the Marines. They are using some of our capabilities, the Fixed Regional Hub Node (FRHN) — in Camp Arifjan in Kuwait — to extend connectivity and services via their tactical satellite terminals to their deployed units in theater.

Clearly, there is more to do when we get into this world of cyber with our Air Force and Navy brethren service components that we need to fix. Going back to the whole issue of security of the network, we as an Army have globally deployed Theater Network Operations and Security Centers (TNOSC) in each one of the combatant command areas of operations. The difficulty has been that each TNOSC has different methods of how they monitor the network, and they use different tools.

When I returned from visiting the TNOSCs, I spoke to Maj. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the commanding general of the Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command, about the disparity I saw with respect to monitoring the network. It is obvious that we needed to standardize our toolsets to get to a better global perspective of what the network looks like. To do that, we had to find additional resources during the budget year, which was somewhat challenging. We are now getting these funds along with the funding to set up the Fixed Regional Hub Nodes in CONUS this year and additional area processing centers.

CHIPS: What is the most difficult challenge in initiating GNEC? There seems to be many similarities with the Navy Marine Corps Intranet such as the establishment of regional network service centers, enterprise services and e-mail. Will you be using a seat management concept? Are you using a similar model to the NMCI or the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)?

Sorenson: Funding and technology are the two major GNEC challenges right now. These have been unresourced requirements. We have not put enough money into this over the last few years to address adequately the needed improvements.

Secondly, we have had technical challenges in terms of trying to deploy our enterprise architecture and consolidate a number of active directories into two— one for applications — and one for e-mail. Until we can get to a global perspective, we could be spending a lot of money but not achieving success because of the technical challenges we have.

With respect to NMCI, the difference is that we are not turning everything over to a managed service. There are aspects of this that we would like to get to a managed service, predominantly for e-mail. We are now working with the Defense Information Systems Agency and U.S. Transportation Command to prototype that capability.

CIO/G6 is leading an initiative to bring about an enterprise e-mail strategy for the entire DoD. Currently, a member of the Army cannot access the address for an individual from a separate military branch through the Global Address List, the directory used to locate contact information. The focus is to set this in place for the headquarters of Army Materiel Command (AMC), Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) and TRANSCOM. Once this proves effective, DISA will take the lead in extending this capability to the entire force.

From the standpoint of turning over the entire network to another party to manage, we are not going to go there. NETCOM/9th Signal Command is still going to be the global provider of the network and make sure it is operational, as well as retaining responsibility for defending it.

All of these other capabilities, the area processing centers, the Fixed Regional Hub Nodes, the TNOSCs, they will all work for NETCOM/9th Signal Command. There are certain aspects of NMCI that we want to take advantage of, but in my discussions with my Navy counterparts, as well as the Marines, we are trying to use the lessons learned to determine how we can take the benefits of NMCI but not have a network [that] we don't command and control ourselves.

We are now in the process of combining the globally deployed FRHNs, area processing centers and the TNOSCs on a regional basis to form what we call a Network Service Center. We hope to develop five of these — one for Southwest Asia, one for Europe, two in the CONUS theater and one in the Pacific. Think of them as more regionally based segments of what might compare to an AT&T or Verizon global network, where they have to define certain regions and regional responsibilities for delivery of that network.

We are also interested in ITIL. We have begun to look at those processes in ITIL across the board from the standpoint of security and enterprise architecture. Those processes are well-standardized and certainly have been shown to be of use in the commercial sector. It gives us a way to not only baseline what we are doing, but also to compare ourselves to our counterparts in the military services, as well as industry, to improve the delivery of the network through these process improvements.

CHIPS: I saw an impressive demonstration of WIN-T Increment 2 on the exhibit floor. How does LandWarNet relate to the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical? Will the Network Service Centers support both WIN-T and LandWarNet?

Sorenson: WIN-T is the tactical transport piece that is going to take data and applications from the Fixed Regional Hub Node into the tactical domain to deliver it down to the Soldier at the far edge of the battlefield. The program manager for WIN-T is also responsible for building out the capabilities within the FRHN. He does not only have the ability to ensure that there is a standard configuration of the delivery of this network, but also to enable the improvements in the future.

The PM is building out what is going into the Fixed Regional Hub Node and making sure it conforms to the configuration he has put into the tactical set so we have an end-to-end network — from the Soldier at the far distant edge — all the way back to and throughout the GIG.

Increment 2 of WIN-T begins to give us a little of the on-the-move capability as opposed to what we have today, which essentially is a system on a vehicle that is providing the communications backbone to the warfighter. In many cases today, WIN-T has to be set up during a halt in operations to communicate; WIN-T Increment 2 will deliver the on-the-move capability.

WIN-T Increment 2 also enhances the delivery of the network to much lower organizational aspects of the Army down to, in some cases, the company level with the use of the Capability Sets. It is an improvement in our ability to deliver network capacity down to lower echelons in our formations, as well as to do it in a manner that they can conduct those operations on the move, as opposed to being static.

WIN-T, Warfighter Information Network–Tactical terminals, are much like something the Marines have called SWAN, Support Wide Area Network. They are built by the same company and have almost the same capabilities, but the SWAN is more of a transient-case implementation.

Today, if you use your cell phone, your cell phone communicates back to a tower and those towers are populated all throughout the United States and overseas. WIN-T provides those cell phone towers but does it in a manner that those towers move. That provides the on-the-move capability by constantly resetting the network based upon where people are and what they can see.

CHIPS: How is the Army meeting the technology needs of its expeditionary force? Are security concerns more difficult to manage than technology readiness?

Sorenson: The biggest challenge to adopting and bringing in new technology is interoperability. It goes back to the whole notion of enterprise architecture, providing an architecture by which changes can be made, new equipment can be integrated, and old equipment can be updated. With the size and scale that it is, the Army will never, never have the same systems throughout our Army.

You will always have generation one, generation two, generation three technology because of size, funding, training, integration, deployment and OPTEMPO (operational tempo) — all those facts of life that are never going to allow our Army [forces] to all have the same piece of equipment throughout all units at the same time.

Security is embedded in interoperability. It is always harder trying to make older generation systems function with newer generation systems, and to have the architecture to accommodate newer capabilities without the need to go back and redesign what we have already built.

Like the Vice Chief of Staff said, we have to provide the ability, much like the Apple iPhone, which has 60,000-plus applications because it has a standard platform, to allow different developers to make improvements to increase capability at a rapid pace. We need to do what we can to adopt that same capability to allow newer technology and make it interoperable with other systems that we have.

CHIPS: How do you balance the technology needs of Soldiers so they aren't overwhelmed by the equipment they carry into the fight?

Sorenson: In many cases we have designed capabilities in the lab, only to take it to the field and Soldiers said, 'This is very interesting. This is very neat. This is very sophisticated … but I don't need all this stuff.' We had that example as we deployed the initial Land Warrior capability to Soldiers.

Land Warrior was built as a way to give them up-to-date situational awareness. They had a monitor on their head, they had a radio, and they were getting all this situational awareness information — but it got in the way of them doing their regular job — which is to fight an enemy.

In some cases, we had to scale back the functional capability within that Land Warrior ensemble because the functional capability was so robust that the Soldiers found that there was too much information for them to use. We had to spend considerable time with the maneuver force schools, (Ft. Benning is the maneuver center for Army armor and infantry.), to get at what amount of information is needed and at what echelon, to help scale the network because some of these applications are bandwidth and capacity intensive.

We had to do it a couple of different ways: lay out what the network capacity is and then say, for that network capacity, this is the amount of information I can give you. What part of it do you want and what part don't you want so we can scale the applications to deliver only what the Soldier needs.

CHIPS: What is the most important communications technology to the individual Soldier on the battlefield — a radio?

Sorenson: A Soldier relies on knowing where he is, where his buddies are, and where the enemy is. A certain percentage of the information will only get radio [communication], but that radio, at some point, could be a cell phone type of capability that tells where they are, where their buddies are, and where the enemy is, but they can also get more situational awareness information as they require it.

CHIPS: Can you talk about your priorities since becoming the Army CIO, have they changed?

Sorenson: My priorities have not changed much. At different points in time, some have been more dominating than others. I have four priorities. The first one has been the deployment of the Global Network Enterprise Construct, otherwise known as GNEC, and getting it to the point that we can get the resources and the organization and the technical aspects worked through to deliver the global network for our Army.

The second priority has been working a number of issues related to cyber. With the establishment of CYBERCOM (U.S. Cyber Command), what is the Army Service Component Command going to look like? How is it going to be structured? What authority is it going to have? We are trying to work through all of those particular aspects.

The third one has been the area of knowledge management and data strategy. We have a lot of information in the Army, but in many cases, it is in stovepipes. For example, one functional area might have logistics information [that] they are not sharing with the personnel community. We have been working on a data strategy that makes data visible, accessible and available, and also integrates it into our knowledge management strategy, such that we can get this information out, and our knowledge management warriors can begin to use this data in ways that we have never anticipated.

We see it all the time. We develop a capability and give it to Soldiers for an intended use, but they figure out different uses for it and make modifications to it over time.

The fourth priority that supports all of the rest is the resourcing strategy. What does the resourcing strategy look like for information technology for the Army? How do we prioritize to do what we need to do with, in some cases, limited resources? What do we do first? What do we do second? We can't do it all.

CHIPS: Is the current Army technology infrastructure sufficient to support the Army buildup?

Sorenson: Yes, we are building out the capability to accommodate the additional 22,000 Soldiers. That is the least of my worries right now. Getting this network globally deployed and standardized so that it can continue to accommodate more improvements and changes is really the focus.

We are in a unique period where the advances in technology that we have seen in the commercial sector are coming to the forefront in our Army. We are seeing a lot of activity with respect to the use of robotic technology for unmanned aerial vehicle and unmanned ground vehicle systems.

We are beginning to see a need, as we build out support forces for CYBERCOM, for those who have the knack to conduct operations on the network, to improve their skills, not only to conduct defensive operations on the network, but also to conduct offensive operations.

In the Army, and the other services, cyber operations are now required. These are very exciting times within all the military departments. If you have an interest in technology and want to make a difference to the nation, you clearly have a lot of opportunities here.

We continue to emphasize within the Army that in developing the global network we are not doing this independently, nor do we plan to do so.

We need more work on the joint piece of it, trying to work the interoperability, trying to leverage what we are doing so that the Air Force can take advantage of it, and we can leverage what the Air Force and Navy are doing.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson
The Army's portion of the Global Information Grid (GIG), LandWarNet, is a combination of infrastructure and services. It moves information through a seamless network and enables the management of warfighting and business information.
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