Marines aim to solve the DDIL challenge

The Defense Department has always prepared to fight in an environment that is austere, stretches supply lines and unfriendly, to put it mildly.

But that preparation focused mainly around kinetic warfare where Marines or soldiers would have to face an enemy that was, relatively speaking, close and understood.

Todd Harrison, a senior associate in the Aerospace Security Project and Defense Budget Analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS) wrote in a 2021 report that “For some types of non-kinetic attack, third parties may not be able to see that an attack has occurred, or the party being attacked may not know right away who is attacking. For these reasons, non-kinetic attacks may be perceived as less escalatory in some situations, although this remains a point of debate. It can be difficult to determine if some non-kinetic forms of attack are effective, particularly if the effects are not publicly visible. And some methods of attack — such as exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities in a cyberattack — may have a limited period of effectiveness before an adversary develops defenses against them.”

The non-kinetic attacks are not limited to just weapons systems, but logistics to move supplies and troops, communications to make data sharing more difficult and GPS jamming and spoofing.

Today, the Marines are preparing for an environment that is disconnected, denied, intermittent and/or with limited bandwidth (DDIL) where the enemy could be hundreds of miles away, behind screens and impacting both kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities.

The Marine Corps awarded General Dynamics IT (GDIT) a task order under the Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS) contract to test out how they can receive Microsoft Office capabilities both on-premise and in the cloud in a classified environment approved at the secret level.

The Defense Information Systems Agency and the General Services Administration awarded GDIT the 10-year DEOS contract that has a $7.6 billion ceiling in August 2019. DISA began migrating users to DEOS in January 2021 after protests and corrective action delayed the implementation.

Navy leading DDIL working group

Jim Matney, vice president and general manager of the DISA and Enterprise Services Sector for GDIT’s defense division, said in an email to Federal News Network that GDIT already is supporting an unclassified environment for these services that is rated at impact level 5 (IL5). He said through this proof of concept that mainly will be done in a lab environment, the Marines will be able to see how the enterprise collaboration tools can work in DDIL environments.

The six-month project is worth under $1 million.

The Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity (MCTSSA) has put together a DoD DDIL lab environment where GDIT will evaluate these proposed architectures and developed capabilities.

GDIT says it also will partner with Microsoft to test capabilities, investigate scenarios and provide applicable recommendations for mission partners deployed in a DDIL environment.

“[T]hese collaboration services must also operate on-premises. As cloud service providers are providing more software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings to support collaboration, such as Office 365, users must have access to the cloud to leverage these capabilities,” Matney said. “The challenge then becomes ensuring the on-premises solution used to support DDIL in an outside the continental U.S. (OCONUS) environment can interface with the enterprise capability that is being used in CONUS.”

Matney said the on-premises collaborative capabilities, such as Microsoft Exchange, Skype for Business and SharePoint, must remain and integrate with the cloud-based services.

GDIT says the proof of concept will include testing several different scenarios to access capabilities including word processing and spreadsheets, email and calendar and file sharing and instant messaging.

All of this is helping the DoD figure out how to deploy DEOS in DDIL environments, where reliable and timely connectivity to warfighters at the tactical edge is critical.

Refine requirements, develop use cases

This task order proof of concept with the Marines is part of the DoD chief information officer’s effort to find technology capabilities that provide seamless operations in denied, degraded, intermittent and limited bandwidth environments.

In 2021, the DoD CIO designated the Department of Navy CIO as the executive agent to lead a cross-service joint working group focused on DDIL.

“These low bandwidth and high latency conditions are prevalent at the tactical edge and experience regular disconnects from the broader network, including cloud services, often for substantial periods of time,” the DON CIO’s office wrote in late 2021. “Network server software and hardware exist at the tactical edge to provide critical IT services and data in these DDIL environments, along with a variety of spectrum communications and unclassified and classified network transports leveraging satellite links and low-Earth Orbit (LEO), Wi-Fi, cellular/4G LTE, millimeter wave/5G and others.”

The working group is leaning on industry for help in refining DoD requirements and use cases to develop standardized architectures and capabilities in these austere environments.

“These tools operate as a hybrid capability, which will allow users access to the full feature set when cloud connectivity is available, but remain productive locally within the DDIL environment,” the DON CIO wrote.

Matney said GDIT is currently supporting multiple agencies across the DoD, civilian, and intelligence sectors with on-premises collaborative capabilities that may be considered and tested as potential DDIL approaches.

The challenge that the Marines are trying to solve isn’t just a Marines or DoD challenge. It’s one nearly every agency from the departments of Treasury to Homeland Security to Justice face. And with so much dependency on email communication and collaboration tools, having access no matter the network environment is critical.

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