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CHIPS Articles: Enterprise IT Solutions and Flexibility at the Tactical Edge

Enterprise IT Solutions and Flexibility at the Tactical Edge
Former Deputy J6 for CJTF-HOA discusses enterprise services for the warfighter
By U.S. Navy Reserve Capt. Joyce F. Richardson - January-March 2015
While serving as the Deputy J6 for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, I found the approach to the design and implementation of enterprise information technology and communications, in deployed locations, had created gaps in communication capabilities that were filled or worked around using demonstrated, but outdated technologies and solutions. While warfighters planned and executed operations in expeditionary settings, the planning for communications required to fully enable and maintain command and control (C2) was being accomplished separately.

As the Deputy J6, I interviewed operational commanders in March 2014 to evaluate the deployment of enterprise solutions in support of the warfighter at the tactical edge, and the advantages and challenges presented by this approach. By taking into account lessons learned, I questioned if there are better ways to build in points of flexibility while maintaining the added value and efficiencies identified with enterprise solutions?

Camp Lemonnier and CJTF-HOA were in the midst of transforming a tactical military base with organic IT and communications capabilities to one that relies on enterprise services and capabilities provided at a distance. The goal of implementing enterprise-approved solutions is to both increase security and save money, while providing an acceptable level of service to customers.

While enterprise solutions are very effective in most business environments and at headquarters locations, the “customers” in the CJTF-HOA areas of operation are service members forward-deployed with a mission to respond to crises as they occur. Therefore, the planning and design for information infrastructure and capabilities must include points of flexibility that reduce user complexity and the lead times for implementing useful solutions.

The Joint Information Environment

The Defense Information Systems Agency defines Joint Information Environment (JIE) synchronization as consolidated, collaborative, and secure end-to-end information sharing capabilities.

In the fall of 2012, the JIE Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet) was implemented at CJTF-HOA. The benefits realized by this implementation included realigning the network management and technology refresh tasks away from the warfighter, and providing increased network stability and security.

In March 2014, CJTF-HOA, Director C4 Systems, U.S. Air Force Col. Gary L. Cornn, who was previously deployed in Afghanistan, noted that the level of information assurance provided was noticeably increased from that found in most deployed environments. This solution can also be extended to partner nations throughout Africa providing our forward deployed teams with locally available network and information services.

Information as a Tool for the Warfighter

Network technology based communications have increased the availability of, and access to information in many deployed locations. According to U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Wayne Grigsby, Jr, Commanding General Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, “Commanders must use physical and virtual leadership to lead from behind, beside and below.”

Virtual leadership is enabled by the network and the information available through its use. On the African continent the “tyranny of distance” is an added challenge that can be mitigated by the availability and location of data and information. Having access to information enhances the ability to maneuver. With this in mind, how we structure access to information, what information is available, access speeds, and the ability to move information and “get at it when needed” helps us more effectively execute the missions and meet our objectives, according to Grigsby. Our objective is to gain, maintain and exploit the information and establish a position of relative advantage against our adversary until we accomplish the mission.

“A communications network able to touch and link all members of a fighting force is central to our operations, according to “Fighting in the Clouds – The Network in Military Operations” of May 2012.

The network will only be able to perform this role if it’s given the same attention to design and implementation that we provide to more traditional weapons systems. Network designs in deployed locations must account for the impact of environment, limited infrastructure and threats.

The Role of Enterprise Solutions

Enterprise solutions are used to reduce costs associated with providing common business technology services such as email, access to organizational files, and internal communications such as chat or instant messaging (IM) capability. Many of the applications commonly used to conduct day-to-day business reside on servers and are shared by the organization both internally and externally. Enterprise capability development and deployment has enabled collaboration like never before. The benefits gained are proof that agencies can create technology solutions that add value and enable organizations to meet mission goals.

DISA’s Strategic Plan 2013-2018 identified the following four cross-cutting strategic goals:

  1. Evolve the Joint Information
  2. Provide Joint C2 and Leadership
  3. Operate and Assure the Enterprise
  4. Optimize Department Investments

Please note that since this article was written, DISA has updated to Strategic Plan 2014-2019 Version 2, and Goal 3 has been revised to: Operate and Assure the DISA Information Enterprise as a part of the Department of Defense Information Networks (DoDIN). The other three goals remain the same.

The Global Defense Posture articulated in this strategy states that while maintaining focus on engagement efforts in Europe and Africa, DISA will “lead the development and operation of a layered, fault-tolerant enterprise information environment consisting of rapidly deployable components that allow for contingency operations in a full range of conflict.”

Evolving the Joint Information Environment requires us to meet multiple objectives. These include the implementation of a consolidated IT infrastructure that is accessible from anywhere in DoD by authorized users. The objectives also include optimizing integrated services offered departmentwide to increase efficiency and improve responsiveness.

The objectives defined to provide joint C2 and leadership support focus on functionality that supports “operational” solutions such as Global Command and Control Systems- Joint (GCCS-J), Joint Operational Planning and Execution System (JOPES), and the development of an enterprise unclassified information sharing services such as All Partners Access Network (APAN). The efforts to achieve these goals provide an approach to optimizing the department investments.

“The goal is to lower both technical and political barriers to communication between the services,” said Patrick Spurr, Acting Director, DISA AFRICOM.

Enabling the warfighter is one of DISA’s primary goals, and to accomplish this we need to look more closely at what information and connectivity forward deployed forces need and place enough emphasis on delivery and implementation time lines. Cost, schedule and performance are all critical to successfully providing enterprise solutions in forward operating areas.

Each solution and service delivery process must more carefully consider impact to the warfighter. When cost is the priority, schedule and performance efficiencies are usually the offset. This leaves those on the tactical edge to endure the same delays that may save money at headquarters, but cause delays and add risk to forward deployed missions. Identifying known points, or steps in the existing process that must be executed differently to avoid delays and reduced performance in expeditionary and contingency environments, would increase support to deployed forces.

Enterprise Solutions Joint Command and Control Leadership Support

During forward deployed operations, the reliance on continuous communications with and between mission planners and mission execution teams is critical. Anything that hinders or delays communication has a profound effect on what can be accomplished. We send communications capabilities forward on each mission to provide our mission teams the ability to request support and provisions, when necessary, and to allow our commanders to offer direction and guidance during mission execution.

When missions experience failures or degradation of information sharing capabilities it hampers the ability to fully execute the mission successfully.

Grigsby defined CJTF-HOA’s mission: “CJTF-HOA through the Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational team:
• Conduct theater security cooperation activities to enable our regional partners to neutralize violent extremist organizations.
• Enable regional access and freedom of movement within East Africa to protect and defend U.S. interests.
• Execute crises response within East African for ourselves and our partners.”

Typically the information considered most beneficial in the C2 environment is classified. The technology exists to support these information sharing needs; however, there are additional challenges when language barriers between those who want to provide the supporting technologies and the nations being supported exist. Language barriers and cultural barriers and histories that preclude establishing the types of relationships necessary for open and productive dialogue also hinder effective communications. Unless there is motivation for partner nations to communicate, providing information sharing technologies becomes a costly experiment that relies too much on hope, and results is those tools being left idle or worst case, misused.

Potential Advantages

Some advantages to be gained in theater, and in support of C2, include increasing points of presence for information through mobility initiatives and enabling application availability at the tactical edge. Enterprise networks are also projected to operate at an increased level of reliability and security once implemented. However, reliance on existing infrastructure, (networks, servers, and computers) and devices for expeditionary purposes may reduce these benefits based on the age and capability of these products. This could generate a need for upgrades and infrastructure investment to realize full support potential, trading cost for performance.

The JIE also has the potential to maximize the use of open standards to promote interoperability and rapid technology insertion. Part of this concept is also to support mission success by enabling information sharing with mission partners. Additional benefits include ensuring users and systems have timely and secure access to data and services needed to accomplish the assigned missions regardless of location, ensuring network availability during cyber events, and denying adversaries freedom of maneuver within the JIE.

Challenges of Enterprise Solutions at Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa

On March 6, 2014, the Commander of U.S, Africa Command, Army Gen. David Rodriguez testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that AFRICOM’s approach to mission accomplishment is to “work closely with African and European partners to shape the security environment, share information, address immediate mutual threats, and respond to crises.”

Actions underway to enable this include the expansion of communication, collaboration and interoperability capabilities with multinational and interagency partners to improve strategy and resource alignment while increasing efficiencies.

Enterprise solutions should offer proven ways to support mission needs. The challenges of implementing enterprise solutions that rely on documented repeatable processes to reduce costs, is that the trade-offs acceptable at the headquarters staff levels create obstacles to mission execution in deployed locations. A need for strict adherence to the established procedures for acquiring, provisioning and managing technologies and system access increases the delivery time for solutions that are needed immediately.

During recent real-world crisis response operations, supporting the Department of State, our crises response operations depended on expanding communications capability rapidly. The process used to provision new email accounts was considerably slowed, because the enterprise services response solution relied on a headquarters team that reduced staffing during the holidays. The delays incurred required operational commanders to use basic disconnected communications while users waited to gain access to the network. Real-world operations in partner nations seldom adhere to, or are concerned with, the formal processes developed to implement enterprise IT.

Requirements such as account creation or adding network services and capabilities were not addressed in a timely manner. At that time, there was not a clear procedure to submit a request for additional services on the network. We could purchase capabilities but getting them connected to the network remained a long process. Our commanders’ priorities were not yet the JIE implementer’s priorities.

Additionally, the forward deployed systems operators and administrators didn’t have the ability to perform network administration level touch maintenance tasks without requesting permission for each event. This hindered and delayed remediation efforts during crisis response events. We did; however, routinely develop plans in support of missions that contained multiple legacy communication options to mitigate the risk of mission failure.

The Commander of the 449th Air Expeditionary Group (AEG) at Camp Lemonnier, U.S. Air Force Col. Kelly Passmore, pointed to the existence and continued creation of unique technology and information solutions built to suit tactical operational needs. These networks and applications are essential for air and special operations. They don’t rely on the basic suite of headquarters applications to perform their missions. There was not an ability or plan for these mission essential networks and capabilities to interface with the JIE.

According to Passmore, in an interview conducted, March 6, 2014, this had created a large number of disenfranchised users at the tactical edge. These users develop and deploy the solutions necessary for mission success in their areas of responsibility. These solutions become part of the weapons systems and platforms actively engaged in pursing mission success.

What existed did not provide a collaborative environment for the most effective joint operations since units and groups attached to support the CJTF-HOA HQ must bring their own networks and devices to the fight. An absence of shared email lists and network tools reduced the ability to share information between services and units supporting a common mission.

Moving Forward While Enabling the Warfighter

While there is no one-size fits all answer to the challenges of implementing enterprise solutions and the JIE, there is a way ahead that is more inclusive of warfighter information and communications needs. Some of the leaders interviewed for this piece shared their ideas, thoughts and recommendations on the way forward.

Installing an operational command liaison with the service providers at the enterprise operations center would raise awareness and create an advocate for options and flexibility when needed to support deployed operations. That person would be able to make the case for discussing where and what changes should be considered to fully enable mission support at the tactical locations. There should also be a command, control, computers, and communication (C4) systems expert with the authority to discuss command equities in the JIE upgrade planning to ensure the integration of CJTF-HOA requirements into the JIE, recommended Cornn.

The plan, at that time, for JIE implementation and enterprise solution delivery relied on centralized authority, management and decision making. This increased the chance that solutions offered would not include the perspectives of those responsible for operations at the tactical edge. More distributed decision making will enable centers of excellence that can not only define unique requirements and capabilities, but generate solutions that can be leveraged by the enterprise at large, Passmore said.

Extending enterprise services down-range makes the information assurance experts nervous, but adequately assessing risks, providing mitigation strategies, and balancing operations benefits against risks will continue to allow us to make decisions in support of our deployed forces. Leaders at the tactical edge must also be forward thinking and, to the extent possible, plan for the transition to enterprise services by creating after action reports and applying lessons learned through current operations during discussions with service providers to create new tactics, techniques and procedures when and where needed, recommended U.S. Army Col. Mitch Kilgo, Commanding Officer of 5th Signal Command in March 2014.

The newly appointed CJTF-HOA J6 Director, U.S. Air Force Col. Kevin Krause suggested that a rapid response team could be used to address application and capability delivery at the tactical edge.

There are a lot of leaders with ideas that could help improve and mature the process of delivering enterprise communications to the tactical edge. These experts all agree that flexibility is required to be built into the concept of operations, implementation, and user tactics, techniques and procedures if enterprise information technologies and networks are to realize their potential and truly become useful tools for deployed forces in the joint warfighting environment.

The article was written when Capt. Joyce F. Richardson was the Deputy J6 for CJTF-HOA. On Dec. 1, 2014, Richardson joined Navy Reserve Commander TENTH Fleet (NR C10F) as the Director, of Assured C2. The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and do not represent the official position of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) Tactical Networking (TACNET) technicians hold a three day class with Ethiopian Army technicians on the set up and function of a Secure Internet Protocol Network Router/Non Classified Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point (SNAP) Lite Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) and PacStar baseband system kit. SNAP Lite is used to enable the AFRICOM Data Sharing Network (ADSN). The class was held July 7-10, 2014, with a graduation on the 11th.  U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Jocelyn Ford.
Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) Tactical Networking (TACNET) technicians hold a three day class with Ethiopian Army technicians on the set up and function of a Secure Internet Protocol Network Router/Non Classified Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point (SNAP) Lite Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) and PacStar baseband system kit. SNAP Lite is used to enable the AFRICOM Data Sharing Network (ADSN). The class was held July 7-10, 2014, with a graduation on the 11th. U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Jocelyn Ford.
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