DOD mobile pilot programs take shape to fit into departmentwide standards, policies

The department's three-part mobile strategy aims to securely connect over 600,000 devices.

The Defense Department’s efforts to issue mobile devices to its civilian and uniformed personnel continue to take shape as multiple pilot programs mature and get ready to shift to initial operational capability.

After several years of tests and modifications, the Defense Information Systems Agency will acquire a mobile device management system that will allow the military services to more effectively and securely manage mobile devices across their networks. But that program is just part of a departmentwide undertaking to connect warfighters to information anytime, anywhere.

This is an exciting time for DOD mobile programs, said Robert Carey, the department’s principal deputy CIO, at a Defense Systems seminar on military mobility in June. One of the military’s main goals is to give commanders and other decision-makers the ability to access vital information wherever they are.

He noted that DOD’s mobile strategy involves connecting some 600,000 mobile devices. As the number of devices continues to proliferate, Carey wants to see more of them issued to DOD personnel, especially in tactical battlefield environments where communications currently end at the squad level.

DOD’s mobility plans are focused on three areas: developing policies and standards for mobile devices, selecting and acquiring a mobile device management system, and educating and training mobile device users. But while it is pursuing these goals, DOD must remain aware of certain requirements, Carey said. One consideration is that while mobile devices and applications provide warfighters with improved command and control capabilities, purely commercial solutions can be prone to failure in harsh combat environments.

Vendors do not have to provide military-grade ruggedized systems, he said, but they should be aware of security considerations — for example, the need to keep functions such as Global Positioning System tracking turned off in the field.

As a part of its Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan, DOD has begun building more gateways to allow devices better access to the network enterprise, Carey said. To do that cost-effectively, the military is working with multiple vendors to provide services and equipment.

“We’re trying to leverage what [companies] bring to market so that we can reduce the cost of the infrastructure,” he said.

He noted that the BlackBerry Z10 smart phone was just cleared for use across DOD in May. Additional tablet PC and smart phone platforms — such as the Samsung Knox, which has DOD-specific security modifications to its Android-based operating system — will be ready to be issued this fall.

A BYOD road map

The military has also been focusing on bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. DOD is working on what Carey describes as a BYOD road map for setting up policies and programs governing the use of personal mobile devices.

“BYOD is a goal of ours,” Carey said. “It is out there in front of us.”

Although the military has made progress, there are still many concerns about BYOD that remain to be addressed related to security, cost and policies. He noted that there are many BYOD pilot programs across the government but none on the scale of DOD’s.

The requirements for a DOD-wide BYOD program include establishing public key access-based security for connecting to military networks, isolating government applications and data from personal data on a device, developing applications, ensuring device integrity, handling technology insertion and making sure that users’ devices stay up-to-date within the mobile device life cycle, Carey said.

“Are [companies’] applications written in such a way that they can be accessed from a mobile device? That’s another thing that we are working on — to ensure that these things are woven into the fabric of DOD’s communications infrastructure,” he said.

While DOD addresses enterprisewide issues through its overarching mobility program, the military services are moving ahead with a number of pilot programs. For instance, the Air National Guard is seeking to provide mobile devices and service to all 89 of its wings, said Air Force Lt. Col. Anmy Torres, the National Guard Bureau’s chief for cyber plans and sustainment. The goal of the pilot program is to provide mobile devices, connectivity and application management systems to those units.

The challenge is to connect some 5,300 BlackBerry smart phones and roughly 2,000 other handheld devices to the network, Torres said. But while the Air National Guard is setting up the network, it is waiting for DISA to finish its cross-DOD mobile environment to plug into that larger enterprise.

There is a lot of pressure from users to get a mobile system up and running, but the Air National Guard wants to give DISA time to set up the network correctly. “We don’t want to tell people we have an environment to set up and then have to turn it off because we didn’t do it right,” Torres said.

IT services at the Pentagon

Another organization working on its own mobile programs is the U.S. Army’s Information Technology Agency (ITA), which is responsible for providing IT support for Army headquarters. ITA is also charged with supporting all the IT services at the Pentagon. Those responsibilities include setting up and managing mobile device service in the facility, said Thomas Sasala, ITA’s chief technology officer.

There is a moratorium on bringing wireless devices into the Pentagon, he said, because of a combination of security concerns and poor reception due to the building’s heavy concrete 1940s architecture. ITA has established Wi-Fi services throughout the building and also manages the Pentagon’s wireless intrusion-detection system, which keeps track of any wireless transmissions from approved and unapproved devices within the building.

The agency is actively involved in DISA’s mobility programs. Sasala said that as part of that effort, ITA discussed the state of the market with vendors in 2012, but he added that in the course of a year, the market has changed completely.

“It is moving faster than we can adapt,” he said. “It is moving faster than any enterprise can adapt.”

ITA is also the organization behind the Pentagon’s IT road map, which has a mobile component. One aspect of the plan is to make the network as flexible and scalable as possible through centralized network management, Sasala said. ITA also has a pilot program under way that is expected to be in full production by the end of the year. To support the effort, he said he has 48 terabytes of data storage for both desktop virtualization and mobile applications.

ITA has already virtualized 48 percent of the data centers in the Pentagon with the goal of reaching 80 percent in the next three years. Furthermore, there are 15 data centers housed in server rooms at the Pentagon, and over the next three years, Sasala wants to see that number reduced to eight.