DISA needs tech to push data

Vendors at industry day learn of agency’s focus on net-enabled information

The Defense Information Systems Agency intends to use its global network capabilities to distribute information as broadly as possible through a service-oriented architecture, according to plans revealed March 23 at a DISA industry day held in Washington, D.C.

To meet that goal, DISA is exploring managed services technologies, including collaboration tools and sophisticated search engines based on commercial models, top agency officials said.

Although DISA operates one of the world’s largest voice, video and data networks, those systems took a back seat to information management during the industry day. Such events allow vendors and service providers to understand an agency’s technology needs and gather information they can use to customize product offerings and marketing efforts.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, DISA’s director, set the tone for the meeting by outlining the agency’s focus on information delivery in a network-enabled environment and speedy adoption of commercial services. “It’s all about information” and how to best provide it to tactical users, Croom said.

The agency reinforced the new focus on net-enabled information delivery by changing the name of the next-generation command and control system that DISA is developing. The project, formerly known as Joint Command and Control, is now the Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC), said Air Force Brig. Gen. David Warner, DISA’s NECC director.

Army Maj. Gen. Marilyn Quagliotti said DISA’s net-enabled focus represents a significant cultural change for the agency as it moves away from the client/server architecture used for the current Global Command and Control System.

Croom said he wants DISA to use commercial products to support NECC as much as possible. Warner echoed that sentiment, adding that he considers NECC to be a customer for the Web collaboration and search tools DISA plans to buy for users throughout the Defense Department via its Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) procurement.

DISA should not require vendors to produce a complete solution, Croom said. Settling for less will help the agency overcome the challenges of quickly providing systems to warfighters, he said.

Another DISA technology priority is to use more open-source software, said Dave Mihelcic, DISA’s chief technology officer. But he added that because volunteers worldwide develop and maintain many open-source software products, DISA needs to ensure security when it adopts such software.

As he pushes DISA into a net-enabled future, Croom said, he also needs to satisfy the current needs of military forces. The top priority is the sharing of information among U.S. and coalition partners in Afghanistan and Iraq, said John Grimes, DOD’s chief information officer and assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration.

DISA also needs to reform its business processes and practices, Croom said. He plans to tap the expertise of Vice Adm. Keith Lippert, the Defense Logistics Agency’s director, to assist DISA. Compared with DLA, Croom said, DISA has no process.

As DISA prepares to tap the commercial realm for technology, Croom expressed frustration with the acquisition process for projects such as NCES, which the agency originally tested in 2003. “Why can’t I buy a collaboration tool in 30 or 60 days?” he asked.

Croom also promised a change in the relationship between the agency and vendors, many of whom view DISA as an inaccessible, closed society. This change should be apparent from his appointment calendar, Croom said, noting that he has met with representatives from at least one vendor a day since taking over as director last July.

Needed: IED jammers that don’t disrupt friendly signals

Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said he saw firsthand earlier this month the toll that improvised explosive devices take on U.S. troops in Iraq. The stark perspective came during a dinner with a 19-year-old soldier, who had lost several limbs in combat.

All spectrum jammers used in Iraq can defeat the radio-controlled bombs, but they also block communications gear in the convoys that use the jammers and in helicopters flying overhead, Croom said.

He told vendors at the agency’s industry day last week that if they were looking for a problem to solve, they should work on developing IED jammers that can neutralize the roadside bombs without affecting communications links.

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