DOD plans base the future on IP convergence
Transforming legacy systems will be the biggest challenge
The Defense Department is one of the government agencies furthest along in planning for converged communications, and it has made IP convergence a fundamental requirement for the kind of unified communications (UC) capabilities it expects to deliver across the enterprise, including to warfighters in the field, over the next decade or so.
It laid out what it expects that future to be in the DOD Information Architecture Plan 2010-2012, published in May 2010, and what the road will be like in getting there.
“One of the major challenges facing the DOD today is transforming from its legacy of system-specific infrastructures to a shared infrastructure that can deliver capabilities at varying levels to consumers and providers of the DOD's data and services,” according to the plan. The goal is to transform DOD’s Global Information Grid infrastructure into a more dynamic, adaptable and shared environment, and “migration from non-IP and circuit-switched networks…is an integral piece of the DOD's migration to a converged IP network.”
The unified capabilities this IP convergence will deliver were spelled out in DOD’s Cloud Computing Strategy, published in July this year. They are to:
* Migrate legacy voice, video and data collaboration services to “everything over IP.”
* Standardize and consolidate component IP convergence efforts across DOD to reduce costs and streamline management.
* Enhance wireless and mobility support.
* Provide real-time collaboration with assured, integrated voice, video and data services.
Delivering these capabilities to warfighters is a major goal of DOD’s new Joint Information Environment, which seeks to get better and more accurate situational awareness to warfighters so they can successfully complete their missions. It will also support the vision that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has laid out for a future U.S. defense strategy that will be based on an agile, flexible and innovative joint force that will be able to deploy quickly to hot spots anywhere in the world.
That IP convergence won’t come about easily or without a lot of effort because most military communications still travel over decades-old time-division multiplexing circuits. But UC pilot programs have already begun to lay the groundwork for the move to IP networks.
The Air Force, for example, has begun a five-year UC transformation program with a goal of getting some 20 percent of its users onto a UC platform within the first year. It has already held two month-long experiments to see how UC can help base personnel and those in operational environments do their jobs better.
The Army IT Agency, which provides IT services to the Pentagon and other DOD organizations, announced in early 2012 that it had begun a pilot program to see whether UC could help in its four-year strategic plan.
The military’s focus on a future network-centric battlefield requires these kinds of capabilities as well as a broader transformation to its communications environment. The DOD Information Architecture Plan makes that clear by describing what its network will look like in the future.
“To support mission needs, DOD wired and wireless transmission capabilities must be sufficiently sized, reliable, available and flexible to accommodate even bandwidth-constrained users at the tactical edge,” the plan states. “In parallel, switching and routing capabilities will enable DOD to interface common or disparate communications media or networks, in order to move data and information end-to-end across multiple transmission media.”
However, the plan states that the strategy will require DOD and its mission partners to be “persistently connected to the DOD’s IP information environment.” In other words, DOD’s plan depends on an end-to-end IP-based communications environment.