Feburary 11, 2018 – Winchester, VA. Having wrapped up a week in San Diego, CA attending AFCEA West, I had the opportunity to listen to senior DOD and Department of Navy (DON) Executives share their vision on how to move the Department forward. There were a lot of consistent themes such as “go fast” and “modernize”, which would seem like oxymoron’s to the experienced Federal Contractor. There were plenty of panels and presentations on how these objectives were going to be met, with the same old focus on data networking, data analytics and cyber security, with the intent of transforming information into something that could enable lethal outcomes for our adversaries. The magic sauce being banked on is the “cloud”, but depending on who you spoke with, you will get multiple definitions of what “cloud” means at AFCEA West. There was a lot of information surrounding MilCLOUD 2.0, and the Navy was proud of their award to CSRA for a “Cloud” contract that is designed to facilitate rapid adoption of the “Cloud” within the Navy. With all this buzz, there was one major gap not addressed, and when it was brought up, it was quickly dismissed. That gap was accounting for the Unified Communications demand signal that has been a constant drumbeat coming from the Combatant Commands, Components and Agencies for over eight years now.
Here are some fun facts to chew on that clearly are too inconvenient to deal with by DOD leadership, or they’re issues not sexy enough to deal with as they don’t come with a bayonet lug attached to them:
- The Navy has approximately 107 TDM End Office telephone switches operational within CONUS and OCONUS that are end-of-life and whose software can no longer be supported. Authority to Operate (ATO) certifications have expired years ago, with most of these obsolete systems are sitting with failed cards that cannot be replaced or repaired. These telephone End Office switches support nearly 300,000 active lines globally, and are the primary link to tenants being able to make 911 calls in the event of an emergency.
- The Army has nearly 900 TDM End Office telephone switches operational within CONUS and OCONUS that are also end-of-life, supporting nearly 1.9 million active lines globally, and are the primary link to tenants to being able to make 911 calls in the event of an emergency.
- The Air Force has nearly 700 TDM End Office telephone switches operational within CONUS and OCONUS that are also end-of-life, supporting nearly 1.2 million active lines globally, and are the primary link to tenants to being able to make 911 calls in the event of an emergency.
- Collectively the DOD spends annually nearly $1.3B on legacy T1 PRI circuits from the telecom companies to connect these platforms to the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) and the Defense Switch Network (DSN).
- Many of these legacy End Office telephone switches are not covered by any maintenance agreements offered by industry, as the money that was once appropriated for such things has been taken and applied to something else. In the case of the Army, their NETCOM made the executive decision to issue a command that no further funding was to be spent on supporting these legacy systems.
To make things even more interesting, the major telephone companies (i.e. AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink) all testified to a FCC committee in August, 2017 stating they were sun-setting selling any new T1 PRI circuits starting in 2020, and that by 2025 they were going to stop supporting them. One would think this would set off “Risk” flags all through the Pentagon… you would be wrong.
Under the direction of the DOD CIO office, DISA was charged with the responsibility to oversee a technical requirements document known as the Unified Capabilities Requirements (UCR), which in turn was to provide the blueprint for the Department to migrate off TDM to Voice over IP (VoIP). Vendors have spent millions taking their various technologies through the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) to have their products validated as being compliant with the UCR so they could be placed on an Approved Products List (APL). The DOD CIO signed out DODI 8100.04 Unified Capabilities and the official policy surrounding the requirement to transition off of TDM technology to Unified Communications. But even with the DOD CIO providing clear guidance on this directive, and DISA rolling out initial capabilities in both VoIP, VTC over IP and Desktop Collaboration tools, the Department sat (and continues to sit) idle.
What is most interesting about all this is the fact that “audio” communications have been, and continues to be the “Gold” standard for Command and Control (C2) communications. Pretty much every desk in the Pentagon has a telephone sitting on it. Most Combatant Commands and Pentagon leaders use Video Teleconferencing as key tool to completing their jobs. I recall back in 2014, the then commander of SEVENTHFLEET shared that VTC was a critical technology for the command, as they often needed to communicate with Far East allies, and it was necessary to “see” them to read body language and facial expressions to ensure nothing was lost in translation. With the clear dependence on telephony technologies, one would think it would be priority one with the DOD to get modernized and protected as to not introduce a significant operational vulnerability. But that just isn’t the case. Instead, there is more focus on data communications, and buzz surrounding cyber vulnerabilities.
The latest attempt by the Army to fix this quagmire is their award of a Soft Client contract to AT&T that is supposed to deliver a Skype for Business capability to Army users fortunate to have a personal computer. According to the Army CIO G6 office, this FedRAMP certified commercially hosted service is supposed to replace the legacy telephone systems currently in use on all the Army forts. Unfortunately, this service can only promise “best effort” when it comes to quality of service, and the mechanism for how the AT&T commercial datacenters are going to be allowed to connect directly to the DOD Non-Classified IP Router network (NIPRnet) hasn’t been fully flushed out. You can forget being able to make a 911 call from your Skype for Business client too, as that won’t be supported. The end result is going to be seeing the Army spend $20M on Chat/Presence capability that they can get from DISA for free, as the Title 10 requirement for the base commanders to deliver 911 to all tenants on their bases, and to be able to deliver base telecommunications in the event they are cut off from outside resources is going to require the continued placement of a carrier grade telecommunications capability on all DOD base, post, camp and stations.
Well, I’m sure playing it safe by focusing on the data network makes sense. Industry follows the money, so here we go spending billions on commercial datacenter facilities and infrastructure. Let’s have another media story about the challenges of transitioning some C++ client server application to hosted servers (yawn). As the old saying goes… Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt!