Cross-domain solutions needed in Iraq

Because coalition countries use different computer systems to store and share information, a "sneaker net" has evolved, requiring people to physically walk information from Point A to Point B.

In Iraq, coalition countries’ use of different computer systems to store and share information has led to the “sneaker net,” where people must use their feet to share information.

Now, the Defense Department is tackling the problem of multinational information sharing from technical, political and cultural standpoints. Officials say cross-domain solutions are needed.

“As we see in the theater, interagency and coalition partners all have a problem with information sharing,” DOD Chief Information Officer John Grimes said at last week’s Network Centric Warfare conference in Washington, D.C. “Some of that is in cross-domain solutions, which we’re working very hard.”

Information assurance is the main challenge to fielding technical solutions to the cross-domain problem, Grimes said. “The problem is cross-domain solutions keep popping up [in Iraq] and they’ve never been certified from an [information assurance] standpoint, so you don’t know if there are holes in it.”

DOD and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently stood up the Cross Domain Solution Management Office to gather and examine industry offerings, he added.

Meanwhile, the sneaker net is not a new concept. “The way it came about it, you’d bring data into some data center on a Sun [Microsystems] box or whatever, and then you’d have to walk it across the floor, thus the sneaker net,” Defense Information Systems Agency CIO John Garing said in an interview. “So it’s now a term that kind of says it’s not really well automated.”

Currently, the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS) is the main coalition information-sharing environment used by U.S. Central Command. It links U.S. military systems with more than 30 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

CENTRIXS includes leases for commercial satellites, telecommunications hardware and software support, network security, collaboration tools, and commercialization of signal units. In 2004, the Office of the Secretary of Defense issued a policy memorandum that multinational information sharing should be based on CENTRIXS standards.

However, CENTRIXS still is largely a sneaker net, Grimes said. Because of U.S. alliance structure, most links are bilateral arrangements between the United States and one other country. If DOD wants multilateral information exchange, it must bring information to a central point and then design a system to govern its use, he said.

Future multinational information sharing will be identity-based, based on information assurance architecture. “We’ll let the software decide who gets what,” Garing said.

Also, other solutions are in the works. Last November, DOD’s Cross Domain Collaborative Information Environment, being managed by U.S. Joint Forces Command, completed the first phase of the National Security Agency’s Certification Test and Evaluation process.

But officials from coalition countries, speaking at the conference, said a lack of trust, not technology, is the primary stumbling block to information sharing.

For example, senior officers from coalition nations have little or no access to DOD’s secret networks even though they are embedded in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Lt. Gen David Hurley of the Australian Defence Headquarters.

“It belies the policy of the U.S. and the president of the United States about what the relationship should be,” Hurley said.

“There are improvements, but its not going fast enough,” said Brig. Gen. Markus Kneip, of the Army Staff, German Ministry of Defense. Greater trust would produce a faster path toward commonality and interoperability standards, Kneip said.

There are economic reasons for freezing out allies, Kneip said. “We all want our industry to benefit, I fully understand how that works.” However, international political organizations, such as NATO, can be the basis for building trust and increased cooperation, he added.

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