Partnerships necessary to bolster DISA, DOD CIO zero trust, JADC2 priorities
By Devon L. Suits
Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs
November 10, 2022
To remain competitive within the cyber domain against state actors like China and Russia, the Defense Information Systems Agency must continue establishing solid partnerships to accelerate and implement next-generation technology and innovative warfighter solutions, the agency's lead officer said Monday.
"Our primary goal at DISA is to support America's warfighters by getting the right information to the warfighter when he or she needs it,"
said Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, DISA director and Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Network commander.
"This means integrating different programs to ensure connectivity from DISA headquarters to the frontlines,"
Skinner added during the DISA Forecast to Industry 2022 conference in Towson, Maryland.
The Department of Defense has aligned initiatives and capabilities under the National Defense Strategy to maintain an integrated deterrence against state actors and other threats, said John Sherman, DOD chief information officer.
However, the impact of more than 20 years of counter insurgence operations has resulted in a "technical debt" across the Defense Department -- specifically in the cyber survivability of weapons and other military systems.
"We are going to have to be able to send forces into places where the electromagnetic spectrum is going to be highly contested," Sherman explained. "We have adversaries that are [highly] cyber capable and operating every day to try to get in our systems."
Sherman said that exploiting a cyber vulnerability could create a similar impact when compared to a physical attack on a location or system. As program offices evaluate each capability to identify and correct any issues, the department will look to industry and academia for additional support.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, DISA director and JFHQ-DODIN commander, and John Sherman, DOD chief information officer, join for a fireside chat during the DISA Forecast to Industry 2022 conference. (DISA photo by Erika Alverio)
Further, prioritizing command and control is DISA's top priority, as the agency continues to support initiatives to achieve the department's vision for Joint All-Domain Command and Control.
"JADC2 is about speed. It is [secure] data where [and when] it is needed," Sherman said, adding that assured JADC2 bolsters the military's ability to operate on the tactical edge.
Under JADC2, DISA provides decision makers and the warfighter with the correct data to help them make informed decisions in real time.
"We have got to figure out how we better leverage data and the myriad of data that is out there," Skinner said, as he discussed the agency's push to leverage and exploit data per DISA’s line of effort number three – leverage data as a center of gravity – outlined within DISA's Strategic Plan 2022-2024.
Data remains a vital asset and the backbone to support enhanced and assured command and control elements. With proper ownership and analysis measures in place, DISA, the warfighter and mission partners will gain a high ground over a near-peer competitor or adversary and enable actionable decision-making capabilities at speed.
Moving forward, DISA must be agile, flexible and precise to harmonize the user experience – all while driving and maintaining cybersecurity initiatives to keep the DOD's networks secured and protected, Skinner said.
Currently, the agency is leading a zero trust security initiative called Thunderdome, which reflects a substantial shift to a next-generation cybersecurity and network architecture that will enhance security and network performance across the DOD.
"Zero trust is built on the premise that an adversary is already on your network or system," Sherman explained. "It doesn't represent a defeat [and] doesn't mean that we are not strong cyber defenders. But it recognizes that we live in a sophisticated threat environment."
Sherman said lessons learned from the Thunderdome prototype would help expand the DOD's understanding of zero trust.
"We have got to defend differently,” Sherman said. "We've got to fundamentally think differently about what zero trust means. This is going to take all of us – the government, industry, academia and others – to ensure we get after this and stay ahead of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and non-state actors and keep them off of our networks."
To watch the full fireside chat, visit DISA YouTube.
For more Forecast to Industry 2022 information, visit DISA.mil.
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