DISA Forecast to Industry

What great-power competition means for DISA

In today’s era of great-power competition, the Department of Defense’s top battlefield IT provider is being forced to look at problems and solutions to support critical missions in ways that weren’t required previously.

“It’s a different way of thinking,” Vice Adm. Nancy Norton, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency told reporters Nov. 5 during the annual Forecast to Industry event, held in Linthicum, Maryland. Solutions don’t always have to be 100 percent, because that can drive costs up to an unsustainable level, she said.

Norton explained that DISA has mission expectation for things that they didn’t have a whole lot of concern about for a long time. This was due to the fact that there was not the level or veracity of competition facing the United States in the counter-terrorism conflict of years past that exists today.

Now, by contrast, the military is back to understanding what levels of availability and redundancy are required to provide mission resiliency and mission assurance, she said.

Norton referenced comments made by Secretary of Defense James Mattis that the military is in a very different place today than it was a few years ago as it pertains to near-peer competitors and the overall strategic environment. Norton noted that a lot of the competitive advantage possessed by the United States in the Cold War has been ceded and now DoD has got to grow it back.

An example of what this change means for DISA includes bringing in additional circuit redundancy and the architecture that supports it. These systems have to work in peacetime and at the height of operations when they might be stressed due to being overworked or attacked by sophisticated adversaries.

“Every solution that we’re looking at we have to think about how does this work today in a normal environment and how could it potentially work in a real-world operation,” Norton said.

She added that recent natural disasters over the past year or so have served as a testing ground to assess where there’s either single points of failure or architecture flaws that need to be beefed up in order to support the mission.

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