DOD enters ‘next phase’ of digital modernization, while teleworking could become the norm

Software and hardware modernization are necessary for giving an organization the best opportunities to work with and act on their data. To this end, the Department of Defense is going to invest in its Commercial Virtual Remote environment. The CVR was initiated in March of this year to temporarily support the DoD’s one million users who are working remotely. Inside Defense explains the reasons behind the plan and other potential steps to be taken soon by the DoD.

The Pentagon has entered a new phase in its digital modernization plan, with several areas to watch in the coming months including increased agile software development, the award of fifth-generation wireless technology prototype contracts, the release of a new data strategy and decisions around a “sustained” teleworking policy.

The Defense Department has nearly one million active-duty users working through a new telework capability, the Commercial Virtual Remote environment, DOD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy told reporters during a press briefing. The CVR environment gives DOD users access to cloud-hosted Microsoft collaboration tools, like chat and video.

The Pentagon initially established CVR as a temporary tool when COVID-19 began spreading throughout the country in March, but as the pandemic drags across the United States and officials grow more comfortable with remote work, officials are now discussing how to support it indefinitely.

“There is an active conversation about what does a sustained teleworking environment look like?” Deasy said.

The CARES Act passed in March allocated the Pentagon nearly $324 million to buy laptops, software licenses, increased network bandwidth and other tools needed to create a teleworking environment, and Deasy said the money should be sufficient for the near future.

“The future is unpredictable in terms of what might happen, but I can tell you the money we’ve received to date has adequately allowed us to build out the necessary teleworking environment,” he said.

Deasy also said the teleworking experiment has made the Pentagon more comfortable with the cybersecurity of cloud environments, as he said “the adversary” is trying to exploit DOD’s increased use of networked services.

“The work that we’ve all collectively done along with our industry partners in this space is just revalidating for us that we can live in a cloud world successfully, even though we know the adversary is going to continue to work very hard to compromise us in this space,” he said.

Meanwhile, Deasy also said the Pentagon is on track to review new offers from Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure for its major cloud contract, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, by the end of August.

The Pentagon awarded the potential 10-year, $10 billion contract to Microsoft in October, but Amazon is suing to overturn the award in the Court of Federal Claims. The judge overseeing the matter put the case on hold until mid-August to give DOD a chance to amend aspects of the solicitation and review new offers from the competing tech giants.

“We are still on schedule to do a reannouncement of our intentions to award probably sometime towards the very end of August, barring any last-minute, unforeseen, additional issues that are raised,” Deasy said.

Software development

Deasy also emphasized the “enormous amount of work underway across DOD” on software development.

“We have now moved into the next phase of digital modernization implementation, which encompasses a more comprehensive program of software modernization,” he said.

Deasy recently designated the Air Force’s “Platform One” software program as an “enterprise service, which has the effect of making it broadly available across the DOD,” he said. Platform One offers a variety of software development tools and is one of DOD’s most “mature” implementations of the “DevSecOps” continuous software delivery model, according to Deasy.

New data strategy

DOD is also preparing to release a new data strategy “in the coming months,” Deasy said.

In June, the Pentagon announced Dave Spirk as its new “Chief Data Officer,” a position that now falls under the DOD CIO.

Deasy said Spirk has been directed to go on a 90-day “listening tour” to speak with senior Pentagon leaders, combatant commands, industry and academia to better understand DOD’s challenges with data.

He said Spirk’s office will then produce a written assessment with a plan of action.

“It has become clear that data policies and data standards alone cannot strengthen data management or improve data quality,” Deasy said. “User engagement and prioritization of opportunities to accelerate are critical.”

5G awards coming soon

The Pentagon plans on awarding three-dozen contracts collectively worth more than $180 million by the end of September to prototype fifth-generation (5G) wireless technologies for military applications, according to Deasy.

The initial tranche of awards will kick off 5G prototyping at four U.S. military bases across the country to experiment with concepts like augmented virtual reality training and electromagnetic spectrum sharing between military and commercial devices.

The 5G program is led by the office of the under secretary for research and engineering, and the awards are being managed through the National Spectrum Consortium.

Spectrum sharing is a centerpiece of DOD’s 5G experimentation campaign, as the U.S. telecom industry presses for DOD to at least share some of its exclusive rights over the mid-band spectrum to deploy a wider range of commercial 5G services.

“DOD is committed to making the U.S. the world leader in innovative spectrum-sharing technologies,” Deasy said.

The Pentagon recently announced the selection of Nellis Air Force Base, NV, and seven more bases where it will experiment with 5G technologies. The solicitations for those sites will be issued by the end of this fiscal year, according to Deasy.


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