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American Forces Press Service

DISA to Embrace New Internet and Communication Technologies

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT MEADE, Md., Sept. 6, 2012 – The Defense Information Systems Agency is taking a new tack by embracing smartphones, tablets and other commercial mobile-device technologies considered vital to improving communications access and data sharing.

The aim, a senior DISA official told American Forces Press Service, is to improve the Defense Department’s information edge while continuing to ensure cybersecurity.

“We in the Department of Defense have been very, very reluctant to embrace the cell phone and tablet technologies because of the security vulnerabilities,” Tony Montemarano, DISA’s strategic planning director, acknowledged from his headquarters here.

“Well, it is time to get over that,” he said. “The modern-day soldier, sailor [and] airman is accustomed to using this on the outside, [and] they expect that same technology on the inside -- not to mention the effectiveness and improved capability this technology gives them. So we have to stand up to the security challenges of what we call mobility. And that is a big, focused change.”

This shift will be just one part of DISA’s focus moving forward, as outlined in its new five-year strategic plan released this week.

The plan aligns the agency with White House and DOD priorities, with an emphasis on more agile and technologically advanced forces, and increased communications capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

“DISA is a combat support agency, and our No. 1 priority is enabling information superiority for the warfighter,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr., the DISA director, said in announcing the plan. “We know we cannot obtain information superiority on our own, but we are proud of the capabilities we bring to enable the DOD to reach their goals.”

To boost those capabilities, DISA is working to create a “joint information environment” – a single, joint platform that allows all authorized users to access and share information.

“The purpose of the joint information environment is to take not only what DISA does, but what the Army, the Air Force, the Navy does, and bring it all together so we can have a synchronized, joint solution,” Montemarano explained. Under that scenario, he said, “all of our capabilities are totally interoperable, [and] we can share information more effectively.”

DISA’s goal, by 2018, is to have “everybody running on a common infrastructure that is protected, effective and state-of-the-art,” he said.

To achieve that milestone, DISA plans to tap into advances already widely available in the commercial and private sector. “The technology is there,” Montemarano said. “So we are taking commercial technology and bringing it aboard. The object is to take that technology, appropriately secure it where it is necessary, and ensure that all soldiers, sailors and airmen can share in the same infrastructure.”

This will eliminate duplication and create new efficiencies – a major goal in light of department-wide belt–tightening. “But it also makes us more effective,” Montemarano said, enhancing interoperability and information-sharing he called essential to unified operations.

DISA is partnering with the private sector to promote technologies that support military requirements. “The state of the art is moving so fast that we can’t build our own. We have to exploit what industry has already provided to the commercial sector,” Montemarano said. “We have to take that and adapt it to our own military applications.”

That includes cloud computing – using remote and often commercially operated servers to store and manage DOD data. “Basically, it is users exploiting computing capabilities that are remote – just like you and I do every day when we go home and access the Internet and access our email via [commercial search engines],” Montemarano explained. “What we do with the Internet today, we are trying to exploit that capability within the Department of Defense.

“The bottom line here … is finally to take the capabilities that you enjoy today on the outside – the Internet, the commercial environment – and have those same capabilities for the joint warfighter -- not for the sailor, not for the soldier, not for the airman, but for the joint warfighter,” he said.

As DISA advances these initiatives, the agency will remain focused on information and cybersecurity. “The biggest problem we have here is security, protecting not only the information, but protecting the environment,” Montemarano said.

All are vital to ensuring warfighters and their chains of command have assured access to reliable information on which their lives could depend, he said.

“The bottom line here is, if I can’t talk to you, if I can’t trust the data that you provide me, then I am ineffective,” Montemarano said. “It is absolutely critical that the warfighter has the information that is necessary to conduct operations. And if the information is not trustworthy, or is denied from [him or her], then we lose our effectiveness.”

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