Like many things in military IT, the process of establishing coverage on base from wireless companies tends to be slow. But, there has been some progress. The Navy has cut the time it takes to get a provider on base from five or six years down to about one year.
That comes with some sacrifices, though. The current memorandum dictating the process for adding wireless providers on bases is broad and doesn’t always reach where it needs to.
“I have a bit of cliché that I like that version 1.0 of everything sucks,” said Thomas Kidd III, director of the Department of the Navy’s Strategic Spectrum Policy, during a Nov. 29 AFECA event in Washington. “No process works ideally. We get feedback from people who are trying to work the process of things that we missed.”
For the last two months, Kidd and his team have been working on a version 2.0 that will fill in the gaps of the previous memo.
“There were things that we missed, things that didn’t work [in 1.0], but we’ve gotten everyone involved. We’ve planted a seed. We’ve gotten everyone back to the table,” Kidd said.
He added there is no timeline yet for when the new memo will come out, but the team is considering “small cell” along with fixing some of the issues with the first memo.
Small cells are private networks set up for limited geographic areas and can be used for remote bases or for providing internet access in the middle of war zone at a command post or for setting up a secure classified network.
Setting up wireless networks is just as much of a real estate issue as it is a technology issue.
James Omans, director of real estate for the assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment, said the Navy is not hiring a service when it allows providers to disseminate their wireless signal on a base.
Instead, the Navy is making its real estate available to the providers for the public benefit.
“We worked with our real estate guys to say we’ve got to streamline this process so we can issue easements for towers and we can issue long-term leases on equipment on structures. That was a bit of a paradigm shift for them because [the providers] were used to competing these things and let’s pick the winner. We said, ‘This is not about picking winners. We want everyone to come and the only limiting factor should be the ability of the building to accommodate the equipment or the location of a tower consistent to our readiness requirements,’” Omans said. “We’re not picking winners and losers. We want all comers.”
Omans said what he’s heard from industry has been positive, but a lot of talk has been around the technicalities of small cell networks.
The Defense Department has been using a roving system small enough to fit on a commercial plane to set up secure mobile networks, while using guides set up by the National Security Agency’s Solutions for Classified Program.
The program “requires a tremendous suite of enterprise-class cybersecurity technology in order to make it work, and to just give you an example of what we are talking about, is two nested layers of [virtual private network] technology, one inside the other, which provides you with a double layer of protection that you would normally in an enterprise environment, but twice that strength,” said Charlie Kawasaki, chief technology officer for PacStar, the company in charge of the deployable wireless access system.
Previously, remote systems involved a lot of wiring to set up a command post.
“Sometimes literally hundreds and hundreds of pounds of just wiring that sometimes takes an extended period of time to set up. It’s not just internet access we are talking about here. Sometimes it’s mission-critical, warfighting information services that need to up and running in order for the command post to be able to function and defend itself and have situational awareness to make sure the command post is safe,” Kawasaki said.
The Air Force is trying to improve its coverage as well. Lt. Col. Tara Nolan, a mobile network modernization officer for the Air Force said the service will release a request for information to bundle its bases together to cover them all by a wireless network.
“How can bundle it so the business case works? What we want is if we open up the gates and we get real property to give us the leases to get the connectivity, then we want all the bases done. We don’t want like five and then we have all these [remote] missile bases that still don’t have coverage,” Nolan said.