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What I learned at TechNet Augusta: A reporter's notebook

Sep. 13, 2013 - 06:05PM   |  
By BARRY ROSENBERG   |   Comments
(Barry Rosenberg)
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C4ISR & Networks Editor Barry Rosenberg spent two days at AFCEA’s TechNet Augusta conference and tradeshow in Georgia the week of Sept. 8, attending many of the sessions, walking the floor and questioning speakers and panelists.

Here are some random tidbits of conversation, speeches, answers to questions and news from the show.

■ The Army’s taken some hits recently about the network and communications technologies being tested at the twice-yearly Network Integration Evaluation at Fort Bliss/White Sands Missile Range. First, the General Accountability Office chastised the Army for “not taking full advantage of the potential knowledge that could be gained from the NIEs, and some resulting Army decisions are at odds with knowledge accumulated during the NIEs.”

Now, the Chief of Signal of the Army is saying the hardware is too complicated.

“What we’re doing at NIE is phenomenal. Here’s my concern,” said MG LaWarren Patterson, commanding general, Army Signal Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon. “It’s too complex. I’m hearing it from every BCT and war fighter. You need a PhD to turn on some of this stuff.

“We need the simplicity to be outside the box. Let the chips and hardware and software [inside the box] do the hard work for the soldier. This is the trend, and I’m hearing it loud and clear. It’s going to take a couple years to get there.”

■ It’s no surprise to hear that the Army CIO/G6 office’s priorities are the soldier and the network. It is the third priority that was unexpected — the next-generation ground vehicle.

“[Our priorities] are empowering soldiers and squads connected to the network in vehicles that increase mobility and lethality while remaining survivable,” said soon-to-be-retiring Army CIO/G6 Susan Lawrence. “Our three priorities: the soldier, the network, the next-generation vehicle.”

■ Network modernization may be one of the Army’s key priorities, but the whole initiative is going to stall if the Army and DoD do not update its infrastructure on posts, camps and stations.

Said Lawrence: “Posts, camps and stations still operate on copper wire circuits. When you get an hourglass [icon on your computer screen] and can’t go any faster, it is because [the Army] hasn’t invested in the infrastructure. Fort Hood runs out of bandwidth every day.”

■ Network modernization is especially important to U.S. forces, even as the number of conflicts around the world has dramatically decreased. There’s a historical downturn in worldwide conflict, said LTG Keith Walker, deputy commanding general/futures, and director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, except for the U.S., which has participated in 100 military interventions since the end of the Cold War.

■ Senior leadership at Fort Gordon has made no secret of their desire to host the Army’s planned Cyber Center of Excellence. But Congress has the final say on where it will be located and the jockeying for position has begun.

“It’s huge when you stand up something called the Cyber Center of Excellence,” said Patterson. “It concerns other states, and there’s a fight on Capitol Hill about who is going to get this.”

■ When is the DoD’s enterprise email not about email? Lawrence had the answer: “It has to do with giving each [member of the military] an IP address so we can connect with you anywhere in the world and get your data to you.”

■ How to get the military to take better advantage and to fully understand the capabilities of commercial, off-the-shelf technology was another topic of discussion.

“How are we going to adjust systems to be more capable by accommodating the flux of COTS capabilities?” asked retired Army CIO LTG Jeffrey Sorenson, a partner at A.T. Kearney Public Sector & Defense Services. “How do you get to a plug-and-play capability?” The key, he said, was to define standards of the network.

Taking advantage of COTS is more of a challenge than one might think, said retired MG Dennis Moran, former deputy director for command, control,and computer systems for the Joint Staff, and a Harris RF Communications vice president.

“The challenge we have is how to define capabilities [the military] wants to get after and to unleash industry to make appropriate investments in technology to deliver capabilities they want. We need greater dialog between capability definers and industry.”

Added William Weiss, vice president of mission networks for General Dynamics C4 Systems: “In the network and comms world, [the DoD] should leverage commercial industry investment. I still believe it is important for DoD to invest RDT&E money, but it should be focused on filling gaps and doing things the commercial industry isn’t interested in doing.”

■ Sequestration, and the Army’s personnel drawdown by as many as 80,000 soldiers, is forcing less experienced personnel to take on complicated jobs usually reserved for more senior personnel.

“I have to roll E8s down to E7s; colonels have to be rolled down to 05s,” said Patterson. “It is a cost-cutting initiative. But what we do in the Signal Regiment is complex, and I have to find a sweet spot where I can roll down a grade and trust a major to do the job of a lieutenant colonel.”

■ There was a lot of love for the network vocalized and displayed on the show floor at TechNet Augusta.

“The network is key to a smaller, more capable, better trained expeditionary force,” said Lawrence.

Added Patterson, “We’re far more than network enabled, we’re network dependent. Our job is to develop the doctrine and material to stay one step ahead of the adversary.”

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