Army, Air Force sign up for shared network architecture

Tuesday - 9/3/2013, 5:24am EDT

As the Army and Air Force upgrade their respective IT networks with a view toward reaching common standards across the military services, the two services have reached an agreement to share some critical pieces of network "backbone" that connects various military installations across the country.

The agreement, officials said in a joint statement, will let the Air Force avoid approximately $1.2 billion in previously-planned costs to upgrade its networks. Instead, the service will make use of a network architecture the Army is deploying based on multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) routers, a technology designed to consolidate legacy, special-purpose networks into a single layer that can move any kind of data from one point to another more quickly and efficiently.

Army officials said the agreement with the Air Force was possible because they had designed their network architecture prior to recent decisions to change the Army's force structure footprint on military bases around the country, and as a result, the service wound up with "excess capacity."

The Defense Information Systems Agency, which is managing the MPLS procurement for the Army, told vendors at the agency's Aug. 9 annual industry forecast that it expected to issue a request for proposals to continue implementing the project as a task order under its Global Information Grid Services Management- Engineering/Transition/Implementation vehicle (GSM-ETI) by the end of 2013.

"As we change the way the network looks, we flatten it and we get out of point-to-point circuits, MPLS technology is how we do that," said Cindy Moran, DISA's director of network services. "It's not new. It's just that it's now becoming one of our standard network offerings. The Army's the first big customer, but we've been doing it in our coalition networks and for our intelligence community folks for about three years. So we have some experience."

Army officials said the MPLS project will increase network throughput at their stateside bases to 10 gigabytes per second — around 15 times more capacity than what's currently available at Fort Hood, Texas, one of the service's biggest installations.

Also under the agreement, the Air Force will jump onboard with some of the recent chances the Army has planned as it tries to consolidate its IT security architecture and move it to the enterprise level. The Army plans to consolidate hundreds of localized "security stacks" into 15 regional centers, which the Air Force will share.

For the Army, moving from locally-managed cybersecurity to dedicated regional posts will save $785 million over the next five years, officials said.

"More and more, we're saying that some of the service-delivery capability can be managed at the enterprise level, greatly improving efficiency, effectiveness and security," Richard Breakiron, the network capacity domain manager in the Army CIO's office said in a statement.

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