DOD to boost bandwidth

The Defense Department's chief information officer this month is expected to approve the next phase of a project aimed at boosting the amount of high-speed bandwidth available to the worldwide military and intelligence communities.

The Global Information Grid (GIG) bandwidth expansion is a cornerstone of DOD CIO John Stenbit's vision for network-centric operations, in which data is posted on networks and made available departmentwide.

Stenbit anticipates providing a global, high-speed, low-latency optical IP network to defense and intelligence bases worldwide, said Army Col. Robert Horback, the GIG bandwidth expansion's program manager.

The project will enhance DOD's Defense Information System Network so that it can support OC-192 (10 gigabits/sec) of usable IP supporting all classification levels at 92 approved sites, which will bring the intelligence and command and control communities onto a single architecture and infrastructure, he said.

However, the Defense Information Systems Agency will continue to support the hundreds of sites worldwide that are not yet approved for the bandwidth expansion, Horback said. "DISA is transitioning sites to a core infrastructure," he said. "We have not lost sight of [upgrading] the other installations that will reap the benefits of the high-speed backbone as we build it out."

The bandwidth expansion "is the DOD superhighway," said Howard Bylund, chief engineer for the project. "We need to work on all of those access ramps."

Horback said the GIG bandwidth expansion is the first step on DOD's transformational communications path, and establishing its terrestrial capabilities will only make it easier for space, wireless and other systems to link into. "There is no silver bullet...and this will not solve all bandwidth issues...but this will take us a long way toward the future."

Horback expects to ask Stenbit for approval to proceed as early as the end of this month, he said. That would allow DISA to begin issuing requests for proposals for the project.

"We're putting the [RFPs] together...for equipment and fiber to reach the 92 locations," and those could be released as early as February, Horback said.

It hasn't been easy getting to this point. DOD officials have struggled to convert the transformational vision for the increased bandwidth into concrete acquisition requirements, he said.

DISA officials worked closely with the Pentagon and the intelligence community to drive the requirements and are now focused on the design and other technical challenges associated with installing the network at sites that have various existing demands and infrastructures, he said.

DOD officials are pushing industry to provide better and faster high-speed encryption solutions. DISA is working with the National Security Agency to quickly certify those solutions once they're ready, Horback said.

Bylund said DISA officials asked industry for help to identify risks and future technologies. "We're willing to accept an appropriate level of risk so long as we're not in over our heads."

DOD and intelligence customers are currently limited by the applications that their information technology backbones can support. The bandwidth expansion will provide a full level of service. "All of the services will be challenged to use the full capability of what we're offering," Bylund said.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank, disagreed. "It will be very easy for the military to use [up 10 gigabits/sec] within a couple of years," he said.

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Budget cut, no big deal

The Global Information Grid bandwidth expansion project, a joint effort led by the Defense Information Systems Agency, is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal 2004, said Army Col. Robert Horback, GIG bandwidth expansion program manager.

But the program had $15 million cut from its fiscal 2003 budget request of $517 million. Officials would not say if the $360 million request for next year also had been cut.

"We are concerned about any loss to the program, as it ultimately has an impact on what we are able to deliver for U.S. deployed forces," said Robert Hutten, director for strategic plans, programming and policy at DISA. "This cut, however, was a small percentage of the total, and we believe we are going to get very competitive pricing from the telecommunications industry."

Horback agreed and said the reduced budget was not a major issue and would not hinder in any way the Defense Department's vision of a ubiquitous, secure, robust optical IP network supporting all information classification levels.

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