The US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is aggressively enhancing its current end-to-end information transport system to support the Pentagon's controversial dreams of establishing its own Internet - a $US200 billion Global Information Grid (GIG).
Expected to be at least two decades in the making, the GIG, a World Wide Web for the US military and its allies, including Australia, is intended to be a secure, wireless information network fusing US and allied military and intelligence services into a unified system and providing vast amounts of information to armed forces in the field.
If ever completed, the GIG will be crucial to future Australian military operations. With interoperability and information sharing with allies, particularly the US, a key priority for the government, Australia is actively working to develop architecture policies, agreed standards and IT capabilities that are interoperable with the GIG. Current initiatives include the multinational Griffin capability, which allows sharing of information between allied nations, and the Combined Federated Battle Labs Network, which allows the conduct of research, development and experimentation in Command and Control and similar processes.
Efforts to build the GIG are being underpinned by the US Defense Department's Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE), which is building a ubiquitous "bandwidth-available" environment to deliver improved national security intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and command and control information-sharing to about 100 critical sites in the continental United State and in the Pacific and European theatres, interconnected via an expanded GIG core. It will connect key intelligence, command, and operational locations with high bandwidth capability over physically diverse routes, with the vast majority of the locations connected via a state-of-the-art optical mesh network design.
The GIG-BE reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC) at six sites in September last year and is scheduled to reach Final Operational Capability (FOC) at 92 sites by September this year.
AT&T Government Solutions was last month awarded a five-month, $US14 million contract to provide engineering and installation work at key locations in the United States and abroad as part of the GIG-BE project, as a subcontractor to SAIC.
Pundits estimate the Global Information Grid will cost $US200 billion in the next decade alone, and take two decades to complete.
But many are highly sceptical that it will prove truly useful or provide anything more than a "boondoggle" for the massive consortium formed to build it, including IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
For instance in the UK publication The Register last November Andrew Orlowski wrote the GIG is intended to give the generals what one supporter describes as 'a picture of the battle space, a God's-eye view'
"Skeptics point out that with modern warfare already 'asymmetric', high technology is little help here. Low technology insurgents have taken a toll on the mightiest military the world has ever seen. Having an abundance of information doesn't help when all you need is a little very good information, so quality triumphs quantity when you're in a tight spot. And basic human qualities, like courage and intuition, are needed like never before. These should be the basis for a military technology policy, but our generals keep having power fantasies based on what they're sold - missold, really - by technology companies, such as the only alliance behind GIG."
Griffin is a National-to-National C2 electronic information-sharing environment within the Multinational Information Sharing (MNIS) program, providing for collaborative planning activities among strategic, operational, and tactical level headquarters of the participating nations. MNIS is a collection of applications and service capabilities that will be resident in the future Enterprise Information Environment (EIE) of the GlG and support multinational Communities of Interest (COI) through NSA accredited information assurance solutions to allow sharing of information at SECRET and below levels. The Griffin net-centric coalition services will be supported through the DISA Coalition NETOPS Center.