The Army is getting closer to fulfilling its ambitions to deliver cloud services to the tactical edge following a pilot test delivering edge computing to Guam, which Army Chief Information Officer Raj Iyer described as a “grand success.”
The February test lays the groundwork for the Army’s program to establish cloud at commands outside the continental United States (OCONUS).
“The First Corps, based out of Joint Base Lewis–McChord, made it part of one of their experiments to show how they can take mission command on the move using edge computing devices and then to be able to link back to data that was in the enterprise cloud,” Iyer told Federal News Network. “And it showed that [this capability] was not only much more resilient than the existing solutions that they had, but the performance, the reliability and the latency [were] far superior than anything that they’ve been used to. So technically, we know it can work.”
The First Corps was able to perform mission command functions from a C-17 Globemaster III over the Pacific Ocean en route to Guam and then later from a naval ship. The idea is to distribute command and control functions over a series of nodes, rather than centralized in one place, to remain mobile and present less of a target to adversaries.
Building on success of OCONUS cloud edge computing test
Now, Iyer said, the Army is looking at how to cement the test use case as part of its institutional processes and operations. Over the next 18 months, the Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) will run roughly 40 exercises to test this functionality, discover best practices and resolve potential weaknesses.
After laying a foundation with OCONUS, the next step will be to take mission command and warfighting functions to the tactical edge and make them cloud native, as part of Army’s ongoing modernization efforts, Iyer said. Because there’s a fundamental difference between OCONUS cloud and tactical cloud, he said.
“An OCONUS cloud is essentially running a commercial cloud, say, at an Army base in Germany or Camp Humphreys in Korea,” Iyer said. “These essentially would be Army installations. And then we just work with a commercial cloud service provider like Google or Microsoft or Amazon, and then have them come in and essentially establish compute and storage, and then run it as a service for us.”
That has the advantage that those services are operating on sovereign land, and the Army has to work around data sovereignty rules, he explained. “Having these OCONUS cloud locations on Army posts will ensure that we are staying compliant with those requirements to have control over our data.”
Those requirements call for a different operating model. The Army provides the physical infrastructure like floor space, cooling and electricity, and the cloud service providers supply the technical infrastructure, provision it and run it. The service is currently working with the Defense Department to establish this in both Germany and Korea as a joint asset because these will be the first programs of their kind in DoD, Iyer said.
Army sets sights on tactical cloud needs
A tactical DoD cloud, on the other hand, must be capable of operating in more austere environments. It could involve satellite communications, for instance. Or, it could also require supporting a unit on the move. Therefore, developing tactical cloud capabilities must involve the additional elements of SATCOM connectivity and transport as well, Iyer said. That’s what the pilot program with USINDOPACOM and First Corps is focused on.
What’s more, this work requires collaboration across DoD, including from the Defense Information Systems Agency and the other military branches because tactical cloud edge computing will typically support combatant commands, he said.
“We meet and chat about this regularly to make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts,” Iyer said. “Because the brain trust for something as complex as this is just not that much out there. And so we want to make sure that we’re leveraging all of the expertise that we each have in our departments.”