DISA: DMS on track

DISA officials are defending the Defense Messaging System against rumors that the program is behind schedule and obsolete

Despite some nagging rumors that it is behind schedule and potentially technologically obsolete, the Defense Department's system for secure electronic messages is actually on schedule and has recently seen a "modest" usage increase, Defense Information Systems Agency officials said.

The Defense Message System (DMS), which is designed to support secure communications worldwide, will replace the aging Automatic Digital Network (Autodin) when it is shut down Sept. 30, said Verlin Hardin, DISA's DMS program manager.

DMS messages travel over the Defense Information Systems Network, which distributes voice, video and data messages. The system is designed to provide writer-to-reader message services for classified and top-secret information to all DOD users at their desktops and, if needed, to other federal agencies and contractors.

Most DOD employees have a Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook client for e-mail. DMS messages look slightly different because of the strict security parameters. However, users can compose DMS messages at their desktops and then use a Fortezza card, which has a cryptographic token for securing messages, to sign and encrypt it, said Diann McCoy, DISA's principal director for applications engineering.

DOD approved DMS 3.0 Gold—the software's latest version—for deployment last summer, and "that milestone drove a stake in the ground" that showed the capabilities were in place "to make DMS a good, solid messaging solution," Hardin said.

However, last summer's milestone also included some "exit criteria" required by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence (ASD-C3I), including directory and security enhancements, which DISA is now testing and completing before Autodin is shut down, Hardin said.

McCoy said DOD periodically reviews commercial messaging solutions to compare them to what is available in DMS. DMS requires National Security Agency-certified cryptography to ensure that military users have the best available service.

She added that the only thing that could delay the program from meeting its next milestone would be "real-world events," such as a potential war in Iraq or other operations associated with the global war on terrorism.

DISA officials refuted any claims that DMS is technologically obsolete, but did acknowledge that the capabilities the system provides could be folded into other services as DOD continues its transformation into a network-centric enterprise. In a net-centric environment, data is made available as quickly as possible to those who need it across the organization or on the battlefield.

McCoy said DISA is doing ongoing tests between now and when Autodin is scheduled to be turned off, to ensure that DMS' enhanced capabilities, including emergency messaging requirements, are ready to meet DOD users' expectations and needs.

ASD-C3I and DISA officials have identified nine "core enterprise services" that will form the foundation of that environment, including two that could affect the future of DMS: messaging and collaboration, McCoy said. "Functions that DMS provides could be transformed as part of what happens with net-centric services."

Still, DMS is not going away anytime soon, and Hardin said it might be 10 years or more before the system's features became part of other net-centric services. He added that decision will ultimately be made by ASD-C3I, which "gives requirements and then DISA provides the capabilities."

DISA's biggest remaining hurdles are training and cultural issues to ensure that DOD users understand and take advantage of what DMS has to offer, Verlin and McCoy agreed.

Another challenge involves keeping all the military services and DOD agencies' addresses current, McCoy said, adding that each organization has its own schedule for updating its users' addresses and that as more users come online, DMS traffic will increase.

World events are already resulting in a "modest increase" in DMS traffic, with 5.9 million messages passing through the systems last month, she said. Lockheed Martin Corp. holds the prime $1.6 billion DMS contract. That, however, is only a potential ceiling value. To date, DISA has spent about $550 million on DMS, agency officials said.

A spokesman for Lockheed Martin refused to comment and deferred all questions to DISA.

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