By C. Todd Lopez
TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 03, 2010) -- Top Army leaders are keenly focused on building out the Army information network said the Army's chief information officer.
During the first day of the 2010 Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's "LandWarNet" conference, Aug. 3, in Tampa, Fla., Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, the Army chief information officer and G-6, said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. has recognized the importance of the Army information network as critical to the mission.
"You can begin to see here -- if we are going to be responsive to a joint force commander -- this whole need to be expeditionary. To be expeditionary, we need to be networked," Sorenson said before what was claimed as a record audience of attendees at this year's LandWarnet conference. An estimated 9,000 Soldiers and information technology experts from the private sector are in attendance at the three-day event.
"That particular notion has been adopted by our chief of staff," he said. "The word 'network' has now been embedded into the vision of the chief of staff as he has talked about what he sees for the future Army."
The Army is now working to build the network to support its requirements.
"This is the effort that we are trying now to achieve, in building out a capability that in many cases will provide more functionality as well as more security for our forces, as they deploy in terms of either expeditionary or to support a campaign like we have in OIF or OEF."
Sorenson said there are now fixed regional network hubs at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and Landstuhl, Germany, for instance. Others are being built at Fort Bragg, N.C., in Guam and at Camp Roberts, Calif. Additionally, he said, there are area processing centers established at Grafenwoehr, Germany, Fort Bragg and Camp Arifjan.
"These are now being postured so we can provide our capability so that we can field forces forward and they don't have to carry the network," he said. "The network will be there to support them."
Network capability also extends to the tactical part of the fight; examples include the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical and the Joint Tactical Radio System as well as other tactical radio systems that get fielded to Soldiers at the tactical edge of the network.
Sorenson said the Army chief of staff has challenged the CIO/G-6 to provide a plan to get to a "unity of effort" to build up the network. Included in that is architecture, testing, technology, acquisition and requirements.
During the "Operational Validation II" exercise, the 75th Fires Brigade out of Fort Sill, Okla., simulated preparation and deployment as a Stryker brigade, the general said.
"We put everything up on the network service centers; they had connectivity though the fixed regional hubs, they had their data and applications loaded there in the area processing center, and they were able to function on a network from CONUS into the theater of operations," he said.
"They were able to do all of the particular aspects of their mission: the early collaboration, the fight upon arrival, and their ability to do battle command through the network in a manner they have never been able to do before," he said.
The general said one commander involved in the exercise said the capability demonstrated was something he'd want to deploy with.
"Now we're taking it from a dress rehearsal to an operational capability and putting a brigade combat team into the AOR with this network service center concept," Sorenson said. "And in fiscal year 2012, this becomes the way which every brigade combat team deploys into the AOR."
Running applications on Army networks is also critical, Sorenson said. Development of applications in the past has resulted in an unwieldy array of single systems, where it is clear that integration with what already exists has not been the focus. Applications today, he said, are fielded as part of a system -- often with their own monitor, keyboard and processor.
"It's all bolt-on electronics," he said. "We have been system-focused on what we deliver. It has a line in the budget, we deliver it, we test it, and we field it. And we don't look at it as integrated capability."
Outside the Army, however, industry is also focused on applications, he said. And the Army is looking at how industry does its best practices to get applications out, certified and credited.
"For Apple and Google, they have a standardized an operating environment," he said. "What that means is the network can be seen and applications can be developed easily because the operating environment is established and known.
"So what we are going to do now is standardize that operating environment as opposed to leaving it up to industry," he said. "We're going to reverse that paradigm, so that we like Google, like Apple, we define that operating environment, we get that software development kit established, and then we allow third parties and others to go ahead and develop those applications."
As part of the effort to standardize the operating environment and develop applications for it, the Army piloted the "Apps for the Army" program. The program involved hosting application development software and helped the Army better the business processes needed to make it easier to develop applications and certify software for the Army enterprise.
"What we did in this particular case was define a number of categories that essentially said we are going to allow Soldiers and civilians to test their skills and develop an application they think would improve the Army," he said.
With no requirements document released, some 140 members of the Army community participated in the program, and more than 53 applications were submitted.
The top 25 applications were chosen as winners.
"These 25 apps represent more than two times the number of certifiable apps we were hoping for and expecting from the program," Sorenson said. "Each application will help overcome mission-related challenges through the power of mobile and web devices."
The top five winners of the Apps for the Army, or A4A application development challenge, will be recognized at the LandWarNet Conference.