Opinion

How cross-domain technologies can help the military modernize

In modern day military construction projects, IT infrastructure is as essential as plumbing or electrical systems. But that infrastructure is becoming increasingly complex and costly to maintain. Physical footprints have become unwieldy and difficult to manage. Meanwhile, legacy IT systems, often in the form of space-consuming hardware, can be security liabilities.

To address these challenges, the U.S. military has opted to take a “hard-right turn” into Enterprise-IT-as-a-Service. With Enterprise-IT-as-a-Service, the military is willing to invest in services, rather than hardware, to achieve their infrastructure reduction and efficiency goals.

Although this method requires accepting some level of risk, the upshot is that the Army can prioritize which components to modernize, rather than try to tackle everything at once.

As the military takes this hard-right turn, it should look to cross-domain solutions (CDS), which can replace a large amount of very costly physical infrastructure and provide better overall security.

Improving priority infrastructure

CDS solutions permit communication between networks and classification levels that would otherwise be kept separate. This can help the military solve both infrastructure and risk management challenges by allowing for the installation of equipment with a smaller physical footprint. The U.S. military can modernize and improve the efficiency of priority infrastructure—making the deployment of enterprise-level applications more feasible—while also supporting secure information sharing.

Modern CDS tools can replace legacy hardware that could present security vulnerabilities, meet raise-the-bar guidelines and are NSA-approved, providing increased efficiency, savings, modernization, and security. More specifically, the military can replace what would otherwise be multiple instantiations of hardware with a greatly reduced, software-driven footprint. CDS eliminates the need for equipment such as Protective Distribution Systems (PDS), multiple computers, monitors, keyboards, KVM switches, and TACLANE devices. Instead, Trusted Thin Clients can be used to access information on a number of networks from a single endpoint.

Army Cyber Command, for example, just built a 324,000 square-foot headquarters command complex that streamlined historically compartmentalized classified networks—desks cluttered with multiple PCs, monitors, keyboards, and mice—through the use of cross-domain solutions. This reduces the cost and time involved in maintaining separate network infrastructures and outdated physical security measures. Integrating cross domain access, transfer, and printing technology for 3,500 users and up to 10 networks into the building led to substantial savings and efficiencies.

On a related note, one DoD agency received a 239% return on investment in just over a year of operation thanks to multilevel desktop consolidation—no longer needing a different machine (or associated peripherals and wiring) for each network. Total savings have tallied over $4 million to date, split between operations labor savings and hardware and maintenance savings.

Rapid, secure coalition-building

CDS also helps the U.S. military share information securely with coalition partners—and easily cut them off when collaboration needs or policies change. For example, some humanitarian relief efforts may only last 90 days. Having to create infrastructure from scratch may take longer than that. With CDS, operations can be scaled up or down expeditiously and as necessary. Users have the ability to rapidly subscribe to published mission networks without the need to deal with onerous IT processes and requests.

In Afghanistan, the DoD’s work with NATO required separate PCs, networks, and servers for inline data encryption. Because CDS can move data efficiently and securely between different security levels and partners, it eliminates such complexity. Instead of needing five different instantiations of hardware to access five different networks with various security levels—which is both complex and expensive—secure access can be granted quickly.

The bottom line

Both sustainment, restoration and modernization (SRM) efforts and new construction are expected to achieve a careful balance of security and efficiency. But modernizing hundreds of military bases would take 20 to 30 years and be immensely expensive. Instead, the military is leaving some bases untouched (for now), while it focuses on modernizing assets in a methodical fashion.

The tough reality is that the military has little choice but to reduce the physical footprints of their facilities to achieve better efficiency and reduce costs. They literally can’t afford to keep building and maintaining facilities of exceptional scope. Simultaneously, they also must judiciously divest of legacy items in a secure manner; otherwise net growth makes the problem more severe.

CDS must play a central role on the road to modernization. It lets the military provide the right people with the right access to the right networks, as it closely monitors data transfers and ensures that only correct and authorized information crosses a boundary. In turn, it can help the U.S. military solve its infrastructure and risk management challenges by reducing infrastructure, lowering costs, and streamlining the environment, while also bringing coalition partners together through secure communications.

Eric Trexler is vice president of global governments and infrastructure at Forcepoint.

Joseph Brendler retired as a major general after more than 31 years of service as a Signal and Cyber officer in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as an independent consultant and as a principal at Deep Water Point. He is also an active member of IEEE, AUSA, and AOC, a Cyber Committee member with AFCEA, a Fellow with ICIT, and an Advisory Board member of MCPA and CSFI.

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