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Secure Interoperability for the government and military

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Steve Soules

Military leaders face a daunting challenge in collecting, analyzing, and disseminating critical threat and operations information to obtain a complete, single view of the battlefield. A primary cause of challenge is the wide array of stovepiped systems that comprise today’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. While awareness about the issue is very high, options are unfortunately quite limited – a situation made worse by acquisition processes that inadvertently perpetuate the problems.

Historically, the Department of Defense’s approach required a C4ISR systems design to meet narrowly defined, specific mission requirements, typically at the program and individual agency level. Though very well suited to their intended purpose, these systems lack the inherent ability to share information or interoperate seamlessly with systems outside their mission space. As the need for collaboration grew, these systems expanded and morphed through modifications, typically by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that built them using proprietary technology.

This focused approach, which emphasizes propriety systems, is an efficient way to achieve the original objective. However, because each C4ISR system was developed in relative isolation, each has its own unique infrastructure, operating-system software, software services (e.g., security, reporting), data, and custom mission-specific software. Moreover, as operators fielded these systems and increasingly integrated them into military operations, expectations and demands on the systems grew significantly. The next logical step was to pursue options to integrate after the fact. Unfortunately, as the efforts to better connect the individual systems expanded, the challenges inherent to using proprietary systems surfaced.

Warfighters and the government and military organizations that support them need “integrated C4ISR,” in which individual elements are designed as part of an enterprise system from the start. Although OEMs can integrate and upgrade their proprietary systems after deployment, experience shows that costs are high and the capabilities still fall short of the seamless interoperability required for contemporary warfighting missions. Additionally, the complex interfaces used to integrate stove-piped systems can create vulnerabilities that have the potential to degrade security.

Acquiring integrated C4ISR requires a sensible approach, one we call Enterprise Integration, where developers make interoperability part of the design from the outset, while enforcing standards across all C4ISR programs. Enterprise Integration brings together three major disciplines and their communities: engineering, operations, and acquisition. Programs will need enhanced capabilities in all three areas to build integrated C4ISR on a foundation of open architectures, agile development, modular construction, and common hardware, software, data, and infrastructure.

This approach allows vendors to plug innovative solutions into the common infrastructure. It also facilitates agile development, making new technologies easier to incorporate into developing systems. Enterprise Integration also provides numerous mechanisms for bringing together operators and engineers to ensure that the systems are user-friendly and built to meet operational needs.

Acquisition costs drop over time due to greater efficiencies in technology insertion, component reuse, and system integration. Overall, adopting an Enterprise Integration approach will enable the development and fielding of systems that improve situational awareness and decision-making. The impact for warfighters and their missions is unmatched superiority over current and future threats.

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Steve Soules is an executive vice president in Booz Allen Hamilton’s Defense & Intelligence business leading the firm’s C4ISR initiative. He serves as the Local General Manager for Booz Allen Hamilton’s western region offices including San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco. Learn more at boozallen.com/C4ISR

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