By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 30, 2013 – In the not-too-distant future, Defense Department personnel will be able to securely access data any time and anywhere, the department’s deputy chief information officer for command, control, communications and computers and information infrastructure said here today.
The current mobility strategy calls for Wi-Fi to be the primary means for DOD personnel to access routine data by 2017, Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert E. Wheeler said at the Mobile Work Exchange Spring 2013 Town Hall Meeting.
The department is conducting more than 70 pilot programs in its effort to make this vision a reality, he said.
One of these programs, the electronic flight bag, paid for itself within about a month of implementation, he said. In the past, airplane pilots had to carry with them numerous paper manuals and maps every time they flew, and each had to be regularly updated. The publications could weigh up to 80 pounds, depending on the aircraft, Wheeler said.
“You carry all that on a tablet, … you think of the fuel savings. You think of the ability to update on a commercial site. … It was a big money savings for us,” he said.
The modernization of Defense Department mobile communications hasn’t been mistake-free, the general acknowledged, citing as an example the secure mobile environment portable electronic device, or SME PED. The devices, intended to enable users to send and receive both classified and unclassified data, cost more than $8,000 per unit and are too slow for today’s data-driven communications, Wheeler said. The mobility strategy calls for the device to be phased out from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal 2017.
The department will continue to look for faster, more secure and cheaper ways to use technology and transmit information, he said, adding that the ultimate goal is to speed up productivity to maintain information dominance.
“Our challenge is to bring it to the warfighter every place they need it -- whether it's in Washington, D.C., to the edge of the battlefield, [or] onto the battlefield,” Wheeler said.
Location isn’t the only challenge, he said. The department divides data into one of three domains, Wheeler said: commercial, unclassified and classified. Classified data requires special consideration, and mobile device access to this domain is being implemented more slowly than it is to the unclassified domain.
The Defense Information Systems Agency is rolling out mobile device access to DOD users in multiple phases, Wheeler said. By fiscal 2014, more than 100,000 mobile devices will be approved for access to unclassified Defense Department networks, he added.
“Right now, our process is 9 to 12 months to approve a phone,” he said. That’s too long if the department wants to keep pace with technology, Wheeler said.
The department is working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to refine requirements for these devices, he said. DOD’s goal is for new hardware, new applications and new mobile operating systems to be approved or denied for use on defense networks within 30 days of submission, Wheeler said, ensuring that the right devices are in the hands of warfighters as quickly as possible.
In the future, mobile devices could, in some cases, entirely replace desktop computers or desk phones, Wheeler said. But even before that happens, he said, by cutting down on costs and ending the “fragmented methodologies” of the old mobility strategy, the mobility program pays for itself in about 15 months.
That includes all the front-end investment, all the networking and all the mobile device management, Wheeler added.
"So, from a taxpayer perspective, it's a very good approach,” he said, adding that it will also allow the department to increase productivity. “We really don't even know how far we could go yet,” Wheeler said, “and I think that's the exciting part of it.”