The Army is swiftly consolidating its computing networks into a common computing architecture called the joint information environment (JIE) where it eventually will be able to securely and efficiently exchange data with the other services and defense support agencies.

Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell, the Army’s chief information officer, said the joint information environment is the “foundation we are all building from.”

“Moving forward in the joint information environment is not an option,” he said July 9 at a forum on Army networks hosted by the Association of the United States Army in Washington, D.C. “It is something that we must all do. That’s every service.”

JIE is envisioned as a single network with a single IT and cyber security infrastructure through which the military services and support agencies can freely operate and share information. Eventually everyone with access to the Defense Department IT network will connect to the JIE, which should allow uninterrupted mission command and provide secure data transfer at the point of need regardless of location, Ferrell said.

“Right now, we have too many disparate networks. We have too many vulnerabilities for our adversaries to exploit,” Ferrell said. “We have too many barriers and firewalls between our partners and we are limited by capacity and diversity. Bottom line is that today we do not have a joint network and that makes JIE an operational imperative.”

The Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will all eventually move to JIE, though each has its own unique requirements. Therefore, each service will overhaul its IT infrastructure at a different pace and join the network at different times, Ferrell said.

“We all may not travel at the same speed down the road, but ultimately we will all get there to the same destination,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, said anyone who wants to do business with the service should be rigidly held to JIE standards.

“I want every program out there to be associated with the standards of JIE and work toward them,” he said. “Think about your phone and access to applications. There is no requirement for an app developer to follow the rules, but if you choose not to, your app does not get on those systems [Android or Apple]. Hundreds of thousands of app developers know what the standards are and they develop to that. The same thing happens here. We establish standards and jealously guard them and if you want to play, you develop to that.”

To join the JIE, the Army and the other services must modernize both the computing hardware and software at various facilities in the U.S. and abroad. The Navy is undergoing a similar network consolidation with a pair of programs–the consolidated afloat network enterprise system (CANES) aboard ships and Next Gen computing systems at its ashore facilities.

A key part of the Army’s network modernization effort has been implementation of the joint regional security stacks (JRSS) at its facilities, beginning with Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, where the system has reached full operational capability.

A JRSS is a suite of computing equipment that securely hosts data from multiple services and agencies behind a firewall and provides intrusion detection and prevention, enterprise management and virtual routing, according to the Army. JRSS allows for centralized computing instead of distributed IT servers at every military installation.

JRSS is being installed at more than a dozen military installations in the U.S. and overseas, said Maj. Gen. John B. Morrison, chief of Army Network Enterprise Technology Command.

“We chose Joint Base San Antonio first because it was a joint base and it really solidified that partnership up front,” Morrison said. The JRSS stacks are shared by the Army, Air Force and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

It took less than two years to go from basic JRSS architecture design to full operational capability at Fort Sam Houston, which is the Army’s portion of the base, Morrison said. Now that Sam Houston is fully up and running on the JRSS architecture, the Army is moving to implement the system at other installations in the Southwest, he said.

“With a joint regional security stack, you literally have multi-tenancy,” he said. “What that means is on the same box, DISA may be doing something, the Army may be doing something and the Air Force may be doing something…The fundamental difference of what we’re doing here is no longer is it going to be a theater network, it’s going to be a global network that is pushed to theaters with everyone operating the same common TTPs and a single security architecture across the Department of Defense.”

Achieving a single security architecture seems counterintuitive in a world where cyber security threats are ever-present, but actually will allow for better network security across the Defense Department, Morrison said. It requires “cyber security in depth” but allows for a holistic view of the entire information and communications network from home station to the tactical edge, he said.

“You also get security because you can actually see yourself,” Morrison said. “When you move to this common joint infrastructure, we will have unprecedented visibility of our own networks and seeing yourself is half the battle, especially in this domain. That is something we just do not have today. We have stovepiped networks…Visibility end-to-end simply does not exist until you go to a single security architecture and then you have to take the appropriate cyber security in depth.”