Defense

Army releases long-term networking plan

LTG Robert Ferrell (2014)

Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, Army CIO

The Army has released a network modernization plan covering the years 2025 to 2040 in an effort to shape a battlefield that promises to be more wired than ever.

The plan calls for tech developers and their Army customers to focus on, among other areas, dynamic computing and sensors at a network's edge, more quickly distilling data into actionable information, human-machine interaction, robotics and autonomy, and cybersecurity.

"The Army must continue to seek and elevate emerging technologies in order to constantly modernize our network and maintain our technological edge," Army CIO Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell wrote in the plan.

In an effort to expose the Army to a wider range of thinking, a panel of outside experts, including IT specialists from Johns Hopkins University, gave input on the strategy.

The new document complements a short- and medium-term IT plan that Ferrell put forth last year.

During a March 31 roundtable discussion with reporters, Ferrell was asked about the difficulty of predicting what the Army's IT terrain will look like in 25 years. The plan is "not focused on widgets; it's focused on conceptual areas," he replied. Prescribing one gadget or another would have been ill-advised "because as soon as it came out on the street it would have been dated," he added.

The IT capabilities available to soldiers in the field are at a critical juncture as Army Cyber Command matures and Wi-Fi becomes a reality for deployed units.

The new plan imagines where these capabilities are going. It calls for a network that supports "dynamic computing," or computers that can learn from operational requirements to deploy applications in response to changing missions. Army IT planners also want their future network to support an explosion in devices connected at the edge, such as mobile devices.

However, Ferrell said computing advances cut both ways.

"One development the military must closely watch is the growing availability of ever-increasing data processing power and faster transmission speed at lower cost," he wrote. "This trend gives resource-poor states, criminal organizations and even individuals access to capabilities traditionally monopolized by advanced countries."

The new plan also picks up on a theme of the Defense Department-wide "third offset strategy": more effective interactions between man and machine.

"Future force reductions, coupled with the radical increase" of drones and semi-autonomous systems, mean that commanders will need new tools for situational awareness, the document states.

On cybersecurity, Army officials are keen on "self-healing and self-protecting capabilities" that can defend against any threat to the resiliency of the Army network. As a result, jeopardized systems must be able to self-destruct to avoid being compromised by an attacker, according to the document. 

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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