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Army Eyes Building a Network-Centric Environment Toward Interoperability

Information-sharing policies and technical differences contribute to the complexity of effective collaboration between military services and their coalition partners.

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Army Eyes Building a Network-Centric Environment Toward Interoperability
Maine Army National Guard Cpt. Kody Peckham and Montenegro Military Major Milija Cabarkapa participate in Immediate Response 23 in Pirlitor, Montenegro on May 27, 2023. Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Travis Hill / DVIDS

As the Defense Department pushes for enhanced interoperability with its allies, the Army is prioritizing creating a network-centric environment to better share data with new partners quickly and more efficiently.

At last month’s technical exchange meeting in Philadelphia, Army officials shared their field experiences working alongside their allied partners.

“Current methods of sharing operational intelligence information with multiple partners is inefficient,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CW5) Shannon Garrett, senior technical advisor at the Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). “Moving forward, we need to actively pursue new approaches for data sharing and protection with our partners. … We need to move to a data-centric environment with a goal to get away from having to build a new network each time we have a partner.”

Garrett emphasized that zero trust principles will provide a secure foundation for data sharing and collaboration through tools such as ICAM solutions, attribute-based access controls and resource tagging. Once fully implemented in a data-centric zero trust environment, there’s also the potential of removing the need for cross-domain solutions, said Garrett.

CW5 Jon Stanley, Indo-Pacific Command’s CTO, highlighted communication, technology, doctrine, policy and cultural awareness as major factors exacerbating effective communication and interoperability between military services and their partners.

One challenge has been navigating existing policies and directives around classifying and sharing sensitive information. This is because each military has its own systems in place — impeding the flow of information necessary for effective collaboration.

“Policy has to maintain relevance and at the speed of technology,” said Stanley.

“When it comes to interoperability, many times a technical solution is available, but the policy may prohibit that last mile of interoperability,” added CW5 Donald Overton Jr., senior technical advisor at the U.S. Army Europe and Africa component command.

The service is also considering potential knowledge gaps that further hinder successful interoperability. CW5 Danny Burns, CTO at Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff office (G-6), noted his top challenge being the “human dimension” moreso than procedures or technical matters. Even when they operate on the same network using the same systems, personnel might not always understand the technology or procedural requirements, or budget constraints might further complicate technology implementation.

“The term interoperability — people dive right into thinking technical when we’re talking about protocols, data formats, the bytes, the bits. … I think the industry can provide those capabilities. I think the challenge that come for us is really more from the human dimension,” Burns said. “We are putting our mission partners in a tough spot as we don’t lock in with that technology we are going to utilize, and so there is a barrier toward cost on what they are trying to keep up with us.”

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