Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10 a.m. on July 15, 2022, with statements from an Army spokesperson and the Army’s chief information officer provided after publication.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has quietly started beta testing Google Workspace as an alternate email option and potential solution to the service’s previous information technology woes.
Army chief information officer Raj Iyer confirmed the move in an emailed statement to Army Times and C4ISRNET.
“The Army is committed to providing our Soldiers the communications and collaboration capabilities they need to perform their missions,” Iyer said. “To that end, the Army has begun early testing of Google Workspace, and will provide details as soon as we are able.”
The platform is intended to serve junior troops who may have lost access to official email accounts amid a choppy transition from Defense Enterprise Email and its mail.mil addresses to the Army 365 system, which involves Microsoft-based products, according to a source familiar with the matter. The new Army 365 suite includes an Army.mil email, but the Army decided that not all soldiers required them.
According to documents and briefings obtained by Army Times last year, around 250,000 personnel — predominantly junior enlisted soldiers — were not included in the service’s Army 365 licensing plan, with sources describing the decision as cost-driven. The service publicly committed to maintaining official email access for those members by building an “alternate email solution” after Army Times reported it had considered eliminating their email altogether.
The so-called solution didn’t quickly materialize, though, and the Army pressed the Defense Information Security Agency, or DISA, to extend the life of the old email platform as an interim “bridging” measure. Soldiers reported increasing problems accessing official email in the intervening months, with many saying that their accounts had been terminated altogether.
But now, Google has committed to provide services covering the license shortfall, said the source familiar with the decision, who also confirmed that testing kicked off this week. Army Times reported in March that Google was a likely candidate for the project.
An Army spokesperson speaking on background cautioned that due to “the intricacies of the pilot, it is premature to discuss the broader implementation across the Army.”
The spokesperson added the service is “not currently aware” of issues with Defense Enterprise Email accounts being deleted after asking DISA to stop automatic deletions, and “will look into reports that some Soldiers have experienced problems accessing their accounts.”
The Google Workspace trial is currently a limited test for select troops. But it represents the company’s big stab at the Department of Defense software Goliath. Competitor Microsoft has long worked with the Pentagon, furnishing services and products ranging from cloud computing to the HoloLens — the foundation of the troubled Integrated Visual Augmentation System.
The DoD last year reached out to Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Amazon regarding the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, the follow-up to the infamous JEDI venture, emphasizing only a few companies could satisfy the program’s hefty demands. Proposals are now under review, with an award expected in December.
In November, Google announced its Workspace product achieved FedRAMP High authorization, a security standard for protecting the federal government’s most sensitive unclassified information in cloud computing environments.
In the same announcement, the company said it earned Impact Level 4, or IL4, authorization from DISA, allowing controlled unclassified information to be worked with across Google Cloud services.
Both certifications broadened Google’s horizons and likely made its recent foray with the Army possible.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.