When several nations come together to fight a common enemy, the effort requires seamless communications. Maj. Gen. Mitchell L. Kilgo, frankly, isn’t satisfied with the present state of affairs.
As director of U.S. Central Command – Command and Control, Communications and Computer Systems Directorate (CCJ6), Kilgo sees gaps between U.S. and coalition communications networks. There are sticking points with the technology that can keep critical information from flowing freely, as well as policy wrinkles that need to be ironed out.
Kilgo spoke on the topic at the Association of the United States Army conference in July and has been pushing for improvements since then. C4ISRNET talked to him about the shortcomings in the present system and about his vision for future improvements.
Where do these gaps between coalition networks come from? How do they bubble up?
A simple example of a challenge would be how we classify information. In some cases, it is an over-classification. Or, when we are dealing with information that is releasable, there are policy constraints associated with how we build the networks. How we mark data for classification can prevent that data from being shared with our partners.
What does that mean for the warfighter?
It could be a tremendous hindrance to the warfighter because you are talking about critical information. That is something that concerns us every day. At the same time, from the IT service provider perspective, we don’t want to take away from the commander’s decision to clear information. Everything we do is to provide the commander adequate information at the right time, so if we have a policy or a technical challenge, we always want to turn back to the commander and talk about the risks associated with that information.
How could this system improve?
Right now, we utilize - internal to the networks - a cross domain solution, a physical hardware device that we use to separate networks and to preserve information that should not be shared. With these cross-domain solutions, we have to ensure that those are built on standard technology and able to interface with any device, regardless of vendor.
If we can build in an open space environment and adjust policy, then we can communicate one nation to another across our platforms. We have more work to do in that area. There are some cross-domain solutions and we are now in the process of researching new and more advanced solutions. But these have to be solutions that are certified for use in operations,
What else is needed?
We also need to go back and take a look at policy. One of the things we are looking at right now is from an equipping piece. Currently, most services fill systems to operate on two networks, the unclassified network (NIPRNET) and the secret network (SIPRNET). However, in order to communicate with our partners, we need a system that gives us coalition capabilities. We need broader policy to be written appropriate to that end.
We do that now, but we do it ad hoc, we satisfy the requirements on a case by case basis. As we build out the capability to have those things available on a full-time basis, with an enterprise network that is always available, we need to refine the policy in support of that. The policy exists now to some extent. However, we need to enhance it and clarify it more.
How will this look in five years?
Five years from now, with our traditional partners we will build hardware and software based on open standards, with the ability to communicate in a seamless network environment. Combatant commands will connect to the coalition cloud on an as-needed basis and if needed, we can add additional partners when the mission calls for it. I personally believe this mission partner environment is a critical and key component to the US’s ability to communicate with our partners at the speed of operations.