IT and Networks

Air Force migrates, consolidates top-secret network

The Air Force says it is nearing completion of consolidating all legacy Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications Systems across the force and National Guard.

This effort will allow for greater utilization of top-secret communications with more than 100 individual sites, which make up 38 legacy domains, identified for the move. JWICSs, which are centrally managed, were owned and operated by individual commands and units.

"The migrations themselves are being done remotely, all from here at [Joint Base San Antonio]-Lackland," said Michael DiCosimo, contract project manager for Air Force JWICS migration. "But, before we migrate a single user or workstation, there are weeks, and sometimes months, worth of site preparation that must occur in order to ensure mission integrity for the migrating site, and the overall success of the migration."

According to DiCosimo, JWICS will synchronize core services to include active directory authentication, exchange services, Microsoft Office patch management, file storage and anti-virus, among others.

"With all JWICS programs running from a single location, collaboration will be easier and will better ensure the mission needs are met quickly and efficiently," Melanie Weems, Air Combat Command's branch chief focused on cyberspace ISR program management, said regarding the single, unified, centrally managed enterprise. "No extra folks will be needed to manage multiple domains. … This will return military personnel to their units for other things."

This centralization will enhance processing, exploitation and dissemination, or PED, across the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance enterprise "greatly," a problem the Air Force has been felled by due to a significant increase in ISR demand as well as sensor overload.

Weems told C4ISRNET in an email that PED is improved by "collaboration through a single enterprise with email, file storage, Sharepoint and other services."

"PED mission owners no longer have to plan, budget, operate or maintain common IT services, releasing those resources back into [the] PED mission area," she added. "Centralized cybersecurity initiatives on [Air Force] JWICS provide better C2 (Command and Control), incident response and insider threat mitigation."

Weems also told C4ISRNET that Air Force JWICSs ride on the Defense Intelligence Agency's JWICS backbone as part of Air Force network infrastructure modernization and optimization initiatives.

Legacy applications specific to a unit's mission, such as weather or drone missions, will still be locally run by the unit, not the Air Force JWICS enterprise team located in San Antonio, Texas.

The Air Force said all 38 legacy domains have been migrated with Air National Guard sites being scheduled. Separate from the migration, however, the 625th Air Communications Squadron is responsible for day-to-day operations of stateside JWICSs.

Air Forces Cyber, which is the service's cyber component to Cyber Command and includes personnel from 24th Air Force and 25th Air Force, with the latter providing the intelligence component, does not operate or defend Air Force JWICSs, Weems told C4ISRNET. The 625th leads both the operational and security components for more than 150 sites and 30,000 users, she added.

AFCYBER is responsible for building, operating, securing and defending the Air Force Information Network in addition to directing cyber effects in support of combatant and air component commanders. In many cases, AFCYBER is not prioritized or resourced to perform day-to-day defensive missions outside of Air Force NIPRNet and SIPRNet, leading to the outsourcing of this work to installations and contractors.

Weems explained that many team members from the JWICS program office work closely with the Air Force’s Distributed Common Ground System security and IT personnel – the Air Force’s global planning, direction, collection, PED weapon system for intelligence — which allows for future collaboration.

While there is the "eventual opportunity" for JWICS to migrate to AF-DCGS general users, which would allow the weapon system to focus solely on mission as opposed to common IT services, Weems said this is not being planned at present.

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