Navy’s Pacific IT overseer finds major potential in military-wide shared network
TOKYO — When Linda Newton last visited Guam, she noticed that her BlackBerry switched almost seamlessly among four private signal providers as she moved around the island.
Newton, who oversees the Navy’s networking and information systems in the Pacific, wants that same kind of connection on Guam within computer networks used by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
The concept — called Global Information Grid 2.0, or GIG 2.0 — comes from Pentagon leaders and aims to create a single communications network complete with shared servers, applications and data.
The system would span all four services and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to Newton, the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Fleet deputy chief of staff for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence.
Guam, which soon will be site of massive military construction, provides a chance to put the concept into action, Newton said.
"It’s going to be one of those first opportunities because of the timing," she said. "I think it will also be an opportunity to prove this can work. You have to plan it right, and you have to have leadership involved."
The military will also need help from private companies to make GIG 2.0 work. Many global companies already use far-reaching networks to allow workers with various skills, responsibilities and needs to work within one system without jeopardizing sensitive information, she said.
That’s why Newton will speak late this month at the Guam Industry Forum III. The meeting, April 28-30, is held by the military and invites interested businesses on the military buildup plans, according to Marine Corps Capt. Neil A. Ruggiero, spokesman for the Joint Guam Program Office on the island.
The U.S. and Japanese governments plan to move 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014. That move, plus an added Army air defense unit, expanded Air Force assets and a larger Navy pier for more and longer visits by aircraft carriers, mean as many as 40,000 more servicemembers, family members and workers would move to the island. For now, the military estimates construction costs for the project at $13 billion.
Newton said the technology exists for building a secure "joint information environment" — military-speak for a system that works for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
It’s possible, she said, for a system to contain various layers of data and access points, from personnel records to intelligence briefings to military operations. But that information can be segmented for certain users, much in the same way secretaries might use a computer program to change their bosses’ calendars without getting access to their personal e-mail.
A larger challenge, Newton said, involves the cultural change that comes when anything from each military service morphs into a single Pentagon-wide system.
Currently, each service uses networks and servers built independently as technology improved, Newton said. The Army can e-mail the Navy, but that doesn’t mean soldiers and sailors use the same applications, databases or even information pipelines to create, analyze, send and retrieve information, she said.
Getting commanders and troops accustomed to a new system also will mean changes each user can accept, much like the way bulletin board sites like facebook.com have supplemented older e-mail based programs.
Another challenge, she said, is the island itself. Guam is made of coral, and installing the computer pipeline needed to route is something the military only wants to do once. Newton wants to make sure that infrastructure is laid as new roads and buildings are built for the expansion.
But the system change should have benefits for the users, especially those units working in the field.
Newton said that traditionally, choices about computer technology have matched the needs of high-ranking officials rather than those of the troops who carry out the orders. A main goal of GIG 2.0 is to reverse that order, she said.
The concept could even help others who work with the military, Newton said.
In a humanitarian crisis, the military often works with other governments and non-government organizations in command centers and amid trauma. With a fully integrated network, an ally could hook into the same server as the U.S. military to share data or bandwidth and not jeopardize military data.
Bringing in more users is another good fit for Guam, where the military often stages supplies and troops to help with natural disasters in the Pacific, she said.
"Everyone could use the equipment and networks without worry," she said.