Note: HCS-D is now Webex for Defense. All references in the original blog have been updated to reflect this change. You can learn more at Webex for Defense.
Guest Author: Brett Hall is a Cisco Customer Solutions Architect and veteran. He currently leads the architectural strategy for the United States Army in CONUS, SWA, and Europe. He PCS’ed from the U.S. Army in 1999, after serving as a Signal Soldier in the 35th Signal Brigade 51st Signal Battalion (Airborne).
“Some of my best memories are from my time as a signal soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. After all these years, I‘m still in contact (thanks to social media) with many of the people who I was stationed with there. And while it doesn’t happen as often as I would like, we do occasionally share some laughs while talking about the good ole days.”
Military communications systems back in the day
At Fort Bragg, I was assigned to the 35th Signal Brigade, 51st Signal Battalion (Airborne) whose motto was “The Oldest and Finest.” As a signal soldier I was responsible for setting up and maintaining communications with Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE). At the time, I thought our equipment was certainly the “Oldest” but far from the “Finest” because of some of the challenges that we had in establishing and maintaining communications with other units.
But little did I know that we were all operating at the tip of the spear, essentially using the first cellular networks developed by the U.S. Army and GTE (now General Dynamics). This was before the cellular revolution that would make mobile phones commonplace in the commercial sector and before cellular (2G/3G/4G) networks were used to transmit or receive data.
Wanted: secure mobility
My current job gives me the opportunity to continue working with the U.S. Army. So I like to think that I’m still serving my nation since my role is to help solve the Army’s toughest challenges. And as a veteran and former signalier I’m able to better understand and empathize with the customer’s challenges, all while offering them a new perspective. Yet I sometimes think the more things change the more they stay the same.
That’s especially true when I think back to the MSE equipment. Back then a telephone number could stay the same, regardless of location and whether moving or stationary. The U.S. Army still desires this type of capability today 1. Unfortunately it doesn’t have it. From my perspective, this type of capability can be demonstrated and deployed with minimal costs, but the situation is a little more complex in nature because of the various dependencies involved.
In order to achieve this type of outcome on a global scale, the Military Departments (MILDEPS) would have to work closely with Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), and everyone would need to agree to add and maintain the necessary configurations. This is where cloud could pay off big for the Department of Defense (DoD). Assuming that a cloud service provider can meet all DoD interoperability and Information Assurance requirements, it’s logical to say that this is one possible positive outcome that DoD customers could acquire by migrating to the cloud. A great example of this is Webex for Defense, formerly called Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution for Defense (HCS-D).
DoD cloud strategies
Shifting responsibilities to a cloud service provider, such as Webex for Defense, provides a strategic use of cloud that benefits our nation’s military for the long-term. Cloud lets you shift the burden of managing a complex system to someone else. It also eliminates or reduces some of the various dependencies and constraints that are imposed on the end customer for locally managed solutions. For example, if an Army phone is receiving services from Webex for Defense, it doesn’t really matter which post, camp, base, or installation that a soldier transitions to during their Army career, they can still keep their existing phone number. In a sense, it’s similar to my family moving across the country from North Carolina to California. We’d still be able to retain the same cell phone numbers from our carriers during and after our change in location.
With Webex for Defense, you can enable quick provisioning of services or capabilities that would traditionally be considered “above baseline” to the locally managed solution. And it keeps the process simple, allowing a DoD knowledge worker access to a menu of items to choose from if additional services or accounts are needed. These can include innovative solutions for integrated voice, video, instant messaging, presence, or conferencing services. A unique differentiator of Webex for Defense is that these services can be offered directly from the cloud or in a hybrid-cloud fashion so that the warfighter doesn’t have to worry about local survivability or deprecation of services while integrating into the tactical battlefield.
The cloud, artificial intelligence, and the DoD
The DoD move to the cloud, using solutions like Webex for Defense, will allow our nation’s defense agencies to actively acquire innovative technologies that better position our nation against future attacks. And in doing so, help fulfill our military’s stated interest of “leveraging technology to improve and enhance human cognitive, intellectual, and decision-making abilities and effectiveness2.”
It’s increasingly clear that cloud is a natural way to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive capabilities for the benefit of our warfighters. This approach can empower them with new insights that they can integrate into daily workflows to increase their mission effectiveness. The Army’s move to the cloud will also help prepare its soldiers for the future while helping them gain valuable experience in emerging technologies.
As a veteran still serving his nation from behind-the-scenes, I’m excited to be part of this revolution in secure collaboration for our nation’s military. As it unfolds, I’ll continue to consider the old adage “the more things change, the more things stay the same,” and tell a story (or two) about the good ole MSE days.
- Reference: Army Network Campaign Plan 2020 and Beyond, Office of the Army CIO G-6, February 2015
- Reference: Shaping the Army Network: 2025 -2040, Office of the Army CIO G-6, March 2016
Next Generation Collaboration for the DoD
Discover more about Webex for Defense
First, thank you for your Active Duty Military service. And then thank you as well for your continued service as a civilian.
Your thoughts are insightful and show a deep understanding of the operational and strategic needs and implications.
I am curious as to how receptive the Army , and all DoD for that matter, is to relinquishing control of 'the system' to the cloud?
Thanks for the kind words. You ask an excellent question that is probably best answered with the typical Engineer's response – "it depends". I believe that relinquishing control of "the system"comes easily to some decision makers while its harder for others. One perspective is that the ends justify the means because it helps re-allocate more resources to better focus on the mission. For others, perhaps they were involved in building the system, or have invested blood, sweat, and tears into the system. Hope that answers your questions.
Great article Brett!
As a United States Marine working on similar military communications equipment over the years and now having the power of collaboration at my fingertips, I too see the need for the transitions to offerings such as Cisco HCS-D and some form of hybrid services. Just seems like a natural evolution.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our War Fighters and the capabilities we can provide them. Thanks for sharing!
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