When the U.S. military withdrew warfighters from Afghanistan, one of the biggest challenges was to maintain data flow across the joint forces while dismantling a 20-year-old traditional infrastructure. To keep information moving, DOD rapidly replaced the legacy IT infrastructure with a cloud-native network.

This transformational network did more than simply maintain data flow. The cloud-native approach offered increased data storage, resilience to server crashes, increased flexibility in data access, and faster data transmission.

The success of the cloud-native network in Afghanistan is a timely example as the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command speeds its efforts to deliver a mission partner environment (MPE) for the command’s urgent regional objectives. The aim of an MPE is to support rapid, secure information transfer among the joint forces and trusted international allies.

To maximize speed to insight, data optimization, and scalability, an MPE must be built on a data-centric, cloud-native network. As the Department of Defense builds toward this forward-looking goal, two factors are critical for success: 1) establishing zero-trust security and 2) building with a data-centric, open-architecture approach.

Multilevel Security Using Zero Trust

The first element is security. Legacy network infrastructure has traditionally relied on cross domain security solutions that transfer data between two systems with a physical network cable. This approach has drawbacks, especially for an MPE: data is siloed, and there are often login delays, crashes, and no access for users in remote locations.

Another common security solution is a firewall, a network security device that filters network traffic. The problem with a firewall? If an adversary manages to hack it, they’ve crossed the moat into your data kingdom, ready to lurk or wreak havoc.

Zero trust security overcomes these drawbacks by securing data at multiple checkpoints. Think of Revolutionary War couriers sending secret documents. Spies and informants devised a code which they used for intelligence missives, wrote in invisible ink, sealed the document with a wax signet, and used a key to decode the cipher.

Like those early patriots, a zero trust strategy relies on more than one tactic. It doesn’t just build a wall. It continuously verifies a user’s attributes: identity, device, behavior patterns, endpoint hardware, geolocation—and more—before granting access to the data. What’s more, it enables flexible groupings, or tetragraphs, which can be assembled and dismantled as the mission requires.

This multilevel security approach is vital for MPE. Zero trust enables coalition members, interagency partners, non-governmental organizations, and other trusted partners to rapidly access information from a single interface, such as a laptop or mobile phone, making the information-sharing process flexible.

Data-Centric, Cloud-Native Transformation

An open architecture approach to a joint forces MPE begins with the shift from traditional network infrastructure to a cloud-native data environment. Instead of purchasing a proprietary solution that could be obsolete in five years, the MPE can evolve with open-source solutions tailored to fit the platform. This enables the phased rollout of a scalable, context-aware environment that integrates new technology and adapts over time.

Adopting a data-centric posture makes agile modernization possible while protecting data at rest and in motion across email, chat, files, and other formats—enabling lifesaving, real-time collaboration that secures victory in complex missions.

Using the cloud is key to delivering fast insights for joint missions. Secret mission enclaves and cross domain solutions will still play a critical role in the MPE. But cloud-native networking developed with open architecture principles and secured with zero trust offers an effective path to help the U.S. and its allies know, act, and win faster.