SAN ANTONIO — The Pentagon’s recently inked Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability contract sets the stage for greater collaboration between the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, according to officials from both communities.

The department awarded the JWCC deal in early December to four companies: Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon and Google. Under the arrangement, the companies will compete for task orders worth up to $9 billion through June 2028. The vendors, each only promised $100,000, will provide cloud computing, storage and other services to users around the globe and across all classification levels.

Speaking this month at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems Worldwide Conference in San Antonio, Texas, leaders from the military and intelligence agencies said the award of JWCC provides an opportunity for unprecedented collaboration as the organizations design an enterprise-wide architecture.

“This enables us for the first time ever to be able to jointly use, co-use, these capabilities from these vendors, between the DoD and the IC,” Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said during a Dec. 14 speech. “That’s huge.”

The intelligence community has its own multi-cloud construct, similar to JWCC, called Commercial Cloud Enterprise, or C2E. The 15-year contract, awarded in 2020, includes the same vendors as JWCC plus New York-based IBM, which provide services to intelligence agencies and other users.

DoD and the IC are establishing “co-use” agreements that allow intelligence officers to access the tactical elements of cloud that the military will build out and, conversely, lets defense users take advantage of the top-secret environments that the IC will establish. It also means the agencies can both draw from the same pool of vendors for various services.

DISA is the lead on JWCC, and while the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is managing the IC contract, the Defense Intelligence Agency is helping create the top-secret cloud environment. DIA’s highly classified communication network, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System — which is in the midst of a significant modernization and expansion effort — will connect the top-secret elements of the cloud.

DIA Chief Information Officer Doug Cossa told reporters during a Dec. 13 roundtable at the conference the benefit of working so closely with the Defense Department to establish the foundational infrastructure is that it allows for interoperability further down the line.

“It really is a huge step forward for the department and the IC as a whole that we’re actually planning the design together and not waiting until things are in operation only to find out that it’s not interoperable,” he said.

The early partnership and access to both contract vehicles also gives the user communities options, Cossa added. DoD officials have said they believe the competition baked into the JWCC arrangement — with Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon and Google competing for every task — will produce best-of-breed products and drive down costs.

“As we define the vendors and the capabilities on JWCC and we make our awards on C2E, we have two vehicles that we could use,” he said. “When you lock yourself into one IT phenomenology or one IT capability, you limit your function as a result of that. Expanding the offerings to where we can leverage the best cloud service provider for the best function really helps us build up our enterprise.”

How and where will the cloud be accessed?

Some of the initial collaboration will involve determining where to locate cloud access points, Cossa said. While today’s cloud infrastructure is largely focused in the U.S., part of the goal of JWCC and C2E is to move that connectivity overseas.

Expanding access to users by creating entry points that are closer to combatant commands and other overseas locations will speed up communication, he said. Quicker, more protected communications are critical to the Defense Department as it increasingly focuses on competition with technologically advanced competitors, such as China and Russia, and less on counterterrorism operations.

“Creating these cloud connection points around the world to be able to decrease the amount of distance . . . that’s the real change that we’re talking about,” Cossa said.

Determining where to place those connection points won’t be easy, he said. While the intelligence and defense communities share about 80% of their requirements, they’ll need to negotiate the remaining 20%.

“The biggest challenge is deciding where in the world are the most efficient locations that get to the equities of both the IC and the DoD,” Cossa said. “How do we balance those? That’s probably the hardest decision that we need to make.”

Colin Demarest contributed to this story.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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