WASHINGTON – The U.S Army is changing its approach to network modernization to prepare for future fights in multidomain environments, focusing on unifying its tactical and enterprise networks.

According to Lt. Gen. John Morrison, the deputy chief of staff of the Army for the G-6, the service is shifting its network modernization effort to view enterprise and tactical networks as a unified body. With a united network, data can seamlessly flow from the Army’s U.S. bases down to the tactical edge. A unified network is critical to enable multidomain operations, where sensors and shooters will be connected, according to top IT leaders.

“Our modernization focus at the enterprise was really on installation modernization, and very, very heavily invested NIPRnet [Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network], our [unclassified] networks,” Morrison said at AFCEA NOVA chapter’s Army IT Days. “Well, to support multidomain operations, we’ve got to shift that focus and move into our mission networks, both coalition and in U.S. secret, and I would argue, even building in a [top secret] fabric.”

With the split of the Army CIO/G6 into a civilian CIO position and a three-star G-6, the Army is making “foundational shifts” in how it approaches IT. One major change, said Army CIO Raj Iyer, is that the service is taking a global approach to its networks, a critical effort to prepare for Joint All-Domain Command and Control.

“Cyber effects almost always will be delivered from infrastructure that resides on the enterprise, but may have tactical effects inside in a tactical formation,” Morrison said. “We must have that be seamless. If I am the long-range precision fires, where you have a cannon that can fire hundreds of miles, that’s not going to be supported by a tactical network, that’s going to have to be supported by a unified network.”

Another example is intelligence. The Army may need to transmit information from Defense Department components in the U.S. to a brigade combat team, or even lower.

“It’s all about connecting the tactical edge to the enterprise and back,” Iyer said. “That is how we’re going to fight in future. It’s no longer going to be decisions made at the enterprise, and then separate decisions at echelon and tactical.”

The Army’s approach now centers on tactical networks and regional hub nodes, physical locations that direct military network traffic. Against a near-peer threat, Morrison said, that’s insufficient. Instead, the Army views low- and mid-earth orbit satellites as viable options for resilient and redundant communications. The Army’s tactical network modernization team is also considering satellite-as-a-service capabilities through a solicitation released in October. The service plans to start new tactical cloud pilots this year, Iyer said.

The notion that the Army needed a secure, dependable and connected network has gained momentum in the last “three to four months,” Morrison said. One of the biggest successes so far is the creation of an integrated planning team that’s focused on ensuring that modernization decisions at the tactical level are connected to the enterprise level, he said. “It is a sea change in how we’ve approached network modernization in the past.”

Operating in multidomain fights will push more critical data into classified networks, Morrison explained.

Putting less data on unclassified networks is “something that we’re really starting to advocate” because of the cyber capabilities of advanced adversaries, including China and Russia, he said. Cybersecurity on the NIPRnet is like “almost like playing whack-a-mole.”

In the multidomain environment, where secure data transmission is key, Morrison said the Army must work to find the “right balance” of what data should be unclassified and classified, while also putting the right cybersecurity controls around the it. The service is also in the “final throes” of establishing a unified network operations framework, he said.

“We need to establish a unifying mission network that will allow any unit in the continental United States to rapidly deploy, fight and win upon arrival, and understand it’s going to be a multidomain environment,” Morrison said.

According to Maj. Gen. Maria Barrett, commander of the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command, the effort to connecting the enterprise and tactical networks is so critical to the Army’s future fights that Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, the commanding general of the Network Cross-Functional Team, hosts biweekly meetings with Army Futures Command, the C5ISR center, Communications-Electronics Command, Forces Command, program executive offices and the Army Cyber Center of Excellence.

Barrett said that NETCOM has helped develop a requirement for identity, credential and access management capabilities to improve secure access to Army enterprise networks. That new solution, acquired over the summer by PEO Enterprise Information Systems, will improve management of accounts in cloud environments and will serve as a “critical enabler” of zero-trust security architectures in the future, Barrett said.

“These two activities alone will allow us to defend our networks globally with greater speed and visibility in support of multidomain operations,” she said.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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