Unified capabilities: The IP-enabled battlefield of the future

Unified capabilities are critical to what some call the Defense Department's "everything-over-IP" infrastructure.

The Defense Department’s CIO has called for the enterprisewide implementation of unified capabilities to be fielded to DOD components by fiscal 2016. UC includes a broad set of voice-, video- and data-sharing capabilities that promise to enable unprecedented joint collaboration among the military services, combatant commands and defense agencies. IP-based solutions will enable DOD users to better collaborate via instant messaging, chat and Web-based conferencing, among other applications.

“The promise of UC is to have a more collaborative environment that will allow us to be a more efficient and effective workforce and to collaborate better across the DOD enterprise,” said Margaret Sebastian, chief of the Capabilities Center at the Defense Information Systems Agency. “We have numerous tech-refresh projects already in place in the infrastructure to upgrade the Defense Information Systems Network [DISN] for what is known as IP convergence.”

Described as DOD’s move to an everything-over-IP network infrastructure, UC is critical to meeting the requirements of the IP-enabled battlefield of the future. UC supports the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s initiative to consolidate DOD IT infrastructure to achieve greater economies of scale, and it’s also crucial to establishing the department’s Joint Information Environment (JIE).

“The commercial world already went through IP convergence, and we in DOD always lag behind. That’s not news to anyone,” Sebastian said. “So we are now going through IP convergence. It becomes not about the telephone network or video network. It’s all unified together. That’s the whole point.”

UC uses commercial technology to meet DOD’s mission requirements and standardizes and consolidates component IP convergence efforts across DOD to reduce telecommunications costs and streamline management while achieving savings by implementing enterprise requirements for interoperability, security and network performance. Accelerating the migration of increasingly costly circuit-switched technologies to interoperable and secure IP-based network-centric services is a big incentive for the Pentagon, especially given the budget-constrained environment for the foreseeable future.

Rolling UC implementation

DISA is taking a phased approach to introducing UC into DOD’s IT environment, including providing an approved set of commercial solutions that defense agencies and services can implement. The UC Approved Products List is the single approving authority for all military services and defense agencies in the acquisition of communications equipment that will be connected to DISN. The solutions are IP-based, interoperable and compliant with the security standards set by the DOD CIO as part of the baseline for JIE.

Those standards-based services will be integrated with available enterprise UC in the business, intelligence and warfighting communities. UC enterprise services will be provided to DOD fixed, mobile and tactical users, as well as to authorized U.S. government interagency and multinational mission partners.

“This is going to be an enterprise service. That’s the way of the future,” Sebastian said. “It’s in direct partnership with all our mission partners, who want the ability to choose their end-user experience and at the same time interoperate with each other on a variety of different devices in various resource-constrained environments. We have environments where we have a lot of bandwidth available and a rich feature set, and we have environments that are going to be very resource-constrained.”

DISA is responsible for UC enterprise funding, engineering, acquisitions, operations, maintenance and sustainment associated with the DISN backbone. Additionally, the agency is tasked with providing acquisition vehicles for the DOD components to use to acquire edge infrastructure solutions from the Approved Products List.

In June 2012, DISA released a request for information for UC Certification Office (UCCO) and DISN configuration management support. The RFI states: “DISA will maintain a list of products that provide or support UC, acquired or operated by the DOD components, [and] certified for interoperability and information assurance.” In addition, the RFI says the task order is intended to provide vendor support for operating and maintaining “the UCCO in support of the DOD UC Approved Products List process. Also, this effort will provide [configuration management] assessment, planning, development, implementation and project management support to DISA/Network Services in support of the DISN.”

DOD has begun deployment of approved IP-based products. The operational framework takes advantage of IP technologies and the department’s aggregated buying power to provide enterprise UC solutions through collaboration between DISA, as the backbone and edge services provider, and the other defense components, as the edge services and infrastructure providers and users. The UC strategy includes the implementation of competitive acquisitions of approved products based on common user requirements.

“DISA provides a set of UC capabilities today and will continue to expand the service offerings and the related level of integration to implement the DOD CIO UC strategy,” said Jennifer Carter, DISA’s component acquisition executive. “The procurement of these capabilities will include competitive acquisition of both new and follow-on capabilities. The acquisition strategy will be updated to leverage advances in commercial offerings to the greatest extent while meeting capability and integration requirements for a broad range of DOD customers.”

However, DISA can only do so much through its own efforts. To truly enable enterprise UC, the military services are responsible for putting their networks on an IP path so that systems can achieve interoperability.

“DISA has been working with the DOD CIO and our mission partners at the service, combatant command and agency levels,” said Army Col. David Grauel, DISA’s deputy program executive officer for enterprise services. “These mission partners have begun their own local transitions to UC-type solutions. But we realize that not everybody has the same set of circumstances. They’ve all got unique mission sets, timelines, budget constraints and interests.”

A more collaborative environment

UC encompasses a broad range of communications, including voice, video, instant messaging/chat, voice mail and email. According to Grauel, UC will include myriad services on the unclassified and classified side, including enterprise voice-over-IP (VOIP), global video services, IP video, Web conferencing and unified messaging. Those services will also be interoperable with DOD’s enterprise email offering hosted by DISA.

“We’re creating a flexible environment where these services, for example, can choose the particular user experience that they want for their particular service,” Grauel said. “And it will work together with our enterprise offerings — such as enterprise directories, as one example. It really is a great opportunity to bring this all together and deliver a set of capabilities that will improve the efficiency and productivity of our DOD workforce.”

Enterprise VOIP is designed to provide a full range of voice-related capabilities to more than 2.7 million DOD users that take full advantage of DISN and IP technologies. The purpose is to avoid the duplication of costs for voice services, operations and maintenance, network operations, sustainment and information assurance at nearly 2,000 locations worldwide with a lower total cost of ownership. Enterprise classified VOIP is available today over the core network, and before the end of the calendar year, it will be available over satellite communications, Sebastian said.

Unified messaging integrates voice-mail and email capabilities, thereby enabling subscribers to access voice mail via email or email via voice mail. She added that unified messaging would be turned on by the end of the year.

UC services are driven by emerging IP and changing communications technologies, which recognize evolving communication capabilities from point-to-point to multipoint, voice-only to rich-media, multiple devices to a single device, wired to wireless, non-real time to real time, and scheduled to ad hoc.

“These capabilities absolutely will all be integrated into various client experiences and feature sets that support both the needs of the user and the resource configuration of the environment,” Sebastian said. “For example, we’ve demonstrated an IP video capability in a mobility pilot. The IP video solution that we’re rolling out works in a resource-constrained environment and on multiple platforms.”

These kinds of enterprise services will be consumed via a variety of end-user equipment, such as computers, IP phones and mobile devices. Combined together, these capabilities will result in ubiquitous access to services by any user at any location on any approved device.

“There are pieces of UC that are very centralized that we do across the core infrastructure, and then there are other things, like applications, that are deployed on a device or close to the edge for rich content,” Sebastian said. “The pieces of UC are going to be placed based on where they need to be for maximum performance.”

Several of the UC capabilities are being introduced into the operational environment and can be used as independent capabilities today. Many others are in the planning phase and are being scheduled for pilot releases.

The mobile unclassified pilot, launched in May 2012, established an environment to perform controlled testing and evaluation. The service solution consists of a mobile networking infrastructure that delivers 3G/4G LTE commercial mobile radio services to extend enterprise UC to commercial mobile endpoint devices via DISN enterprise mobility gateways. 

“iPhones and Androids are going to have our UC client deployed on them,” Sebastian said. “We’re providing the application.”

In addition, in a joint effort with the National Security Agency, DISA is enabling commercial mobile technologies to support DOD’s classified voice and data requirements while securing DOD Mobile Classified Capabilities (DMCC) information enterprisewide. The increased capabilities include mobile interoperations with existing DISN secure IP and legacy voice and data networks.

 DISA’s Capabilities Center “is involved in supporting the classified pilot through the work that we do in telephony. That’s the platform on which we deployed the IP video client to demonstrate it,” Sebastian said. “IP video is deployed now in a pilot form, but it’s going to be rolled out on the low side by the end of the calendar year and on the high side by the following year.”

Those efforts support clearance-level secure voice calling from mobile device to mobile device and interoperation with existing DISN secure voice services. DISA is responsible for maintaining full control and accountability of DMCC devices.

The transport layer

The implementation of UC across DOD is dependent on UC transport, which is the secure and highly available enterprise network infrastructure used to provide voice, video and data services through a combination of DOD and commercial terrestrial, wireless and satellite communication capabilities. UC transport will primarily be provided by the DISN Non-classified but Sensitive IP Router Network (NIPRnet) for unclassified services and by the DISN Secret IP Router Network (SIPRnet) for classified services.

“UC is a collection of application-based services that’s going to be delivered across the black IP core,” Sebastian said. “If you think about the evolution of DISN over time, it was looked at as a multitude of separate networks, such as the [time-division multiplexing] network, NIPRnet and SIPRnet. And everything was its own network. The beauty of IP convergence is that voice, video and all these cool applications operate and interoperate across the IP network. So all forms of transport — including optical [and] satellite — become a single, collapsed DISN that is a multi-classification way of transporting IP applications.”

Circuit-switched services are migrating to IP-based non-assured/assured services over DOD component assured services local-area networks and intranets and UC transport using products from the UC Approved Products List. During the implementation, both converged and non-converged UC will be provided by technologies that are a hybrid of TDM and IP.

“Right now, our TDM-based voice and video networks are probably on life support,” Grauel said. “We’re facing some issues with the technology on the underlying networks. We’ve got a situation where some of our enterprise contracts for our voice, video and data services will be running their course over the next several years.”

“We have fundamental underpinnings that we have to do to the infrastructure of the DISN that we are addressing through existing tech-refresh projects today,” Sebastian said.