The Defense Information Systems Network: An essential weapon in America’s defense
The Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA) Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) serves all branches of the military services, the executive branch, the combatant commands, 14 DOD agencies, and nine field activities.
The DISN is the global enterprise network that enables information superiority and critical communications, said Charles Osborn, DISA’s acting infrastructure executive, during the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium in Baltimore May 16.
He also said it’s the core of the Department of Defense (DOD) Information Network (DODIN).
“It’s a robust, diverse, resilient, and protected communications and computing environment enabling the warfighter,” Osborn said.
The scope of the DISN ranges the “hotline” that connects the White House and the Kremlin to hosting one of internet’s root servers.
Osborn said owning this critical technology means DISA must stay focused on constant evolution. He said he’d like to explore emerging technologies, such as the automation of network orchestration.
“This type of automation is crucial,” Osborn said. “We need the network to react autonomously before we get a call from our ‘customer as a sensor’ letting us know there’s a problem.”
DISN’s network portfolio contains terrestrial transport, gateways, multinational information sharing, national senior leadership communications, and other special services. The satellite portfolio houses gateway and teleport programs; Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services; the Unified Video Dissemination System - Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; digital intermediate frequency, and commercial satellite communications.
“If we make a comparison,” Osborn said, “the services we provide would be equivalent to $24 billion in the commercial industry.”
DISN’s portfolio of DOD-owned and leased telecommunications networks, undersea and terrestrial transport, satellites, gateways, multinational coalition information networks, subsystems, and operations support enables the U.S. military and mission partners to leverage, sustain, and exercise distinct advantages over the adversary; support command and control, intelligence, logistics, medical, and other essential missions across the full spectrum of military operations; connect warfighters with each other and their sustaining bases; and integrate and deliver capabilities fluidly across all domains.
Not only did Osborn highlight DISN’s capabilities and agility, he also addressed the importance of keeping it secure.
“The DOD is probably the most attacked entity on the internet,” Osborn said. “We’re prioritizing DISN enhancements, and increasing security while we innovate … realizing innovation can’t increase network vulnerability.”
As an example, Osborn talked about the challenges leaders face today with many users on the DISN browsing social media.
“It’s not just as simple as blocking sites,” Osborn said. “At DISA, we’re looking for ways to separate essential and non-essential browsing, because in today’s network environment, many installations have Facebook pages, and even DISA has a YouTube page. The network needs to be agile enough and secure enough to accommodate a wide range of end-user requirements.”
Osborn said another area of focus is building a survivable network infrastructure.
“We’re increasing capability for mid-earth orbit satellite transport, transmission security, increasing redundancy and resiliency, and performing an internet protocol network redesign for DOD network components in the continental U.S.,” he said.
The infrastructure executive said he is open to discussion on how to leverage DOD assets, commercial knowledge, and academia in an effort to improve the DISN.
“We can all work together … especially when it comes to showcasing new technology to users used to operating with legacy systems,” he said.
The DISN is a complex infrastructure encircling the globe and keeping the warfighter connected. To learn more, download Osborn's briefing slides from DISA.mil.
*Posted Friday, May 21, 2018