Insight by Verizon

‘Purposeful innovation’ should drive DoD network modernization efforts

DoD maintains many antiquated facilities, which presents modernization challenges. We talk with technology experts at Verizon to gets insights on how Defense ca...

This content is sponsored by Verizon.

Nearly 30% of Defense Department facilities have exceeded their lifespans, points up a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. But a military base is more than just bricks and mortar.

One of the biggest challenges DoD faces with its aging bases is their networking capabilities. Bases built 50 or more years ago didn’t anticipate the power, cooling or wiring requirements of today’s technology — to say nothing of bases built during or shortly after World War II that are still in use.

But GAO also noted DoD has a massive facilities maintenance backlog, and upgrading old bases may be expensive and difficult. Some are even national historical sites, further complicating matters. That presents a major challenge to DoD’s modernization efforts.

“DoD wants to get to the next generation of network infrastructure. They want these next generation infrastructures to support the warfighters’ ability to do virtual training, support tactical communication networks, utilize autonomous vehicles, and also technologies like digital twinning within a shipyard or an air fleet so they can actually start working on things in a more real-time and autonomous fashion,” said Lamont Copeland, director of federal solution architecture at Verizon.

“To reach these goals they need to upgrade their networking capabilities in a way that is simple to consume and purposeful,” Copeland continued. “Network infrastructure changes can range with various difficulties based on the nature of the facility. Assessments need to take place to find the right combination of technology — wireline and wireless — to support the current needs of the mission but have the flexibility to support growth of the mission.”

Advantages of wireless

That’s where wireless technologies come into play. Setting up 5G on a base can help accelerate modernization far beyond the pace of actually laying fiber. And then once that 5G infrastructure is set up, it’s easier to tie it to edge computing and begin standing up “smart base” applications like augmented and virtual reality training and autonomous vehicles, Copeland said.

5G can also facilitate the use of new technologies that rely on high-speed and low-latency networks. Though large data use applications and facilities would still require direct fiber connectivity, 5G can help lessen the need for an extensive fiber upgrade.

It’s also an important factor in technological parity across DoD because the age of a base isn’t the only thing affecting its capacity for modernization. Its location can be a factor as well. Urban bases tend to have more advantages regarding infrastructure than more rural, austere bases including increased access to public and private services.

“You’re going to see more innovation, more companies bringing a lot of capabilities out to rural areas. It’ll take time to get there, and it’ll take time to kind of do a lot of those changes that the government may want to do. And so the question is, how do we bring that parity between urban and rural because they have the same aging infrastructure? They have the same needs as well: to be able to innovate and keep the military at its elite status,” Copeland said. “These new technologies — how you’re delivering the wireless, how you’re delivering the edge computing — will help them accelerate that innovation across bases in more rural and urban settings.”

Over the past several years, technology evolution has been the primary catalyst for infrastructure upgrades, said David Rouse, director of Defense sales at Verizon. They’ve largely been driven by network efficiencies and equipment obsolescence.

“More recently and in some areas, there is a new driver. We are seeing local mandates and regulations about carbon footprint and green energy initiatives where legacy time-division multiplexing (TDM) and copper infrastructure is required to be shut down for more efficient IP and fiber-based solutions,” Rouse said.

Digital inclusion is another initiative with potential benefit for DoD, he said. “Improving high-bandwidth broadband solutions for rural areas where the military also has a presence presents a mutually beneficial opportunity.”

And that parity is important not just to modernize at the same pace but to standardize across DoD for training purposes too, Rouse said. As an example, warfighters may need to be able to pick up a network at one base, transfer out their connectivity to a different base, and have all their credentials and experience seamlessly transferred so that they can pick up right where they left off.

Enterprise visibility

A better network foundation and standardization also gives the services visibility across all of their platforms and capabilities. By having a consistent underpinning for communications and compute paths, DoD is helping lay the foundation for consistency across apps and services as well. It also can make enterprisewide security easier. Aging technologies that may have less updated patches and enhancements could have a lot of inherent security flaws that introduce vulnerabilities into network environments, Rouse said. Having that visibility makes it easier to flag anomalies and potential intrusions.

But DoD also needs to bring these capabilities to its operations outside the continental United States. And that’s a challenge because DoD can’t take advantage of the national infrastructure it has in the United States, he said.

“Foreign countries sometimes incorporate technologies in their infrastructure that are produced by near-peer adversaries, which may be restricted for use on U.S. installations as per the National Defense Authorization Act,” Rouse said. “Base personnel are mitigating risk at the demarcation points where base connectivity meets local connectivity. Private wireless can selectively be leveraged for foundational connectivity based on the location of the base.”

But it’s equally important to avoid the potential pitfall of technology for technology’s sake, Copeland cautioned.

“We need to understand how all the vendors are bringing in technology to drive that mission set. We’re purposefully trying to innovate and modernize all these different bases and different facilities to meet that goal,” he said.

“There are a lot of really good technologies and services out there. But the question is, how to make sure that we are driving a purposeful innovation to meet the specific goals of the military?” Copeland added. “The way to get there is making sure that we’re partnering well with the government to understand what their needs are.”

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