How the military is testing cloud computing in combat

The military is in the midst of a significant shift in how it buys, builds and delivers technological capabilities to warfighters. At the heart of these plans is a cloud infrastructure called cArmy that can deliver communications, tools, and sensor data so commanders can get a clear digital picture of the battlespace and make critical decisions faster.

The Army created its Enterprise Cloud Management Office in 2019 to shape those plans. This office was upgraded to agency status last year and is now focused on modernizing business systems and implementing enterprise solutions, such as migrating the ministry’s temporary Microsoft Teams environment. from Defense to the more permanent Army 365 environment. Solution.

2020 was about laying the groundwork for cArmy, 2021 was about migrating enterprise systems and fine-tuning the processes that go with them, and now 2022 is about going global and expanding army cloud offerings.

Paul Puckett, director of the Enterprise Cloud Management Agency, told FCW that this year’s priorities focus on determining “the truly tactical opportunity to leverage cloud computing and then begin to provide truly persistent mission command as a service for the military… This will drive us to invest heavily in understanding and leveraging cloud computing capabilities outside of the continental United States while linking the domains business and tactics in a unified network.

Create a global digital infrastructure

ECMA’s efforts also build on the Army’s digital transformation plan, which outlines how the service will use technology to change the way it conducts business and combat operations. As a result, Puckett said, “the cloud is really becoming the global digital infrastructure that this mission is essentially running on.”

Army CIO Raj Iyer has promised changes in IT policy, primarily through the recently released Digital Transformation Strategy and the Unified Network Plan sub-component. Cloud infrastructure is a major component of several other recent DOD strategies related to data, software modernization, and the Joint Joint Command and Control vision for which the Army shares some responsibility.

Puckett said all of these strategies intersect, and ECMA’s job is to make sure they’re consistent and usable across the military. “We usually talk about how we want to fight, how we want to work, where and how our data and software [are] just available when we need [them]”, he added. “And it’s so operationally. But then we have to understand that someone is designing a digital infrastructure that actually enables this outcome. It is at this intersection between the two that we have been mistaken over the past few decades.”

Part of ECMA’s mission is to design and deploy this digital infrastructure and determine the computing and storage footprint and common services that will accompany it, while understanding its limitations and opportunities.

“One of the critical components of cloud infrastructure is broad network access,” Puckett said. “We are naturally limited when it comes to our ability to leverage [geosynchronous Earth orbit]. And how can we start tapping into [low Earth orbit] and [medium Earth orbit]? Where will these ground stations be? What is their connectivity…? Where is the first leap in terms of computing resources that are going to enable this persistent mission command?”

These questions become increasingly important as the military experiments with the tactical cloud outside of the continental United States, as preserving data sovereignty involves bringing necessary computing and storage to the edge of the network. . Partnerships and experimentation are key to success.

“Everyone recognizes that the role they have to play is immediate feedback for immediate experimentation,” Puckett said. “So how do we take this experimentation and, if successful, turn it into the new way the military does business? We have already demonstrated the value of persistent mission command as a service specific to this effort. “through the Cobra Gold multinational military exercise and ongoing capabilities in contested environments.

Going forward, mission command as a service could impact how the military trains and structures its forces, he added.

Experimenting with the cloud in theater

These efforts are part of a larger cloud mission command strategy. As part of this, the Army tested its Command Post Computing Environment (CPCE), which provides a common operating picture so that commanders or their staffs can “look at a screen and be able to see all the operational data that is important to its mission,” said Col. Matthew Paul, Project Manager for Mission Command at the Army Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Tactical Communications. everyone has the same visual picture of where their friendly forces are, where the enemy forces are, what should we do for our mission, where are the [operational] risks.”

The CPCE is not cloud contingent, but some units experimenting with it – including the 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps – have volunteered to try the cloud-enabled option with the help of the ‘ECMA. After Cobra Gold, the 18th Airborne Corps’ Project Ridgway will continue to test Mission Command as a Service.

Mission Command cloud services are also being used by I Corps, III Corps, V Corps, US Army Pacific and US Army Europe and Africa’s Mission Command Support Division at maturity levels, Puckett said. The goal is to create greater structure and repeatability while improving training, operational readiness, and tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Paul said officials plan to align the CPCE with the Army’s data strategy, which relies heavily on the ability to host data and applications in a cloud environment. “It simplifies the way we exchange data between different echelons, and it provides a capability for tactical formations that they don’t have today – a capability that is persistent, that they can reach wherever they go. [are] on the battlefield,” he added, noting that field testing began as soon as applications could be moved to the cloud environment.

While continued experimentation this year seeks to answer technical questions, officials also want to address challenges related to doctrine and how units use the capability. “There are certainly technical challenges to overcome, which we will do,” Paul said. “But we’re experimenting so we’re still trying to figure out what the unknown unknowns are as we jump into the cloud.”

Many technical challenges are security-related and involve making sure that performance and security merge and finding the right mix of cloud and on-premises services.

“I think we’re trying to find that right place,” Paul said. “The commercial cloud offers a lot of good things. And we want to try to figure out how to use the commercial cloud [is] consistent with our current position on how we configure networks and how we assign certain roles and access for things like data. We have to harmonize that. This is not an easy problem to solve, but it is solvable. And some of that is technical, but some of it is also political.”

The other challenge is updating systems at the speed of feedback, Paul said. “We get a lot of feedback from the field, and being able to integrate that feedback more quickly into our software development process or our DevOps pipeline so they can get the capability they need faster is a challenge,” he said. he adds. “So that’s something we’re certainly trying to align with.”

Bring about fundamental change

Lt. Col. Phil Smith, data systems development manager for the Army Network Cross-Functional Team, said it’s important to note that the Army is not fully moving to the tactical cloud and that the trick was to harmonize cloud and non-cloud infrastructure.

“We’re not advocating a massive move to the cloud with capabilities and having nothing in the physical location with the units,” added Smith, who was instrumental in moving to cloud technology for CPCE testing. “So I think the key thing to understand through the military when we talk about these things is that they have to work in concert with the soldier on the edge. That’s, to be honest with you, some of the biggest technical challenges we face.”

There are still tests to be done, but the potential gain is worth it. “It takes a bit of vision to be able to [say]”Hey, this new ability, here’s what we could do with it in the future,” Smith said. “It’s a fundamental change that we’re trying to make…if it’s successful and if it becomes a thing, to have lasting effects in a beneficial way down the road.”

The second phase of CPCE will build on experimentation and will be integrated into future capability sets being developed by the Army Network Cross-Functional Team for 2023.

Sherry J. Basler