SOFIC NEWS: SOCOM Looking to Break Barriers to Deliver Data Globally

By Stew Magnuson

Defense Dept. illustration

Lisa Costa is looking for opportunities to “break glass” at Special Operations Command where she serves as director of communications systems and chief information officer.

The info-tech expression has its origins in breaking the glass in a fire alarm, but it has come to mean shattering barriers to allow personnel to get to to hard-to-access information.

Costa oversees the Special Operations Forces information environment, or the SIE, “the preeminent capability that allows us to conduct local operations at speed,” she said May 20 at the virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference organized by the National Defense Industrial Association.

The SIE is the fourth largest network in the Defense Department, she noted. “We don't just deliver to the last mile — we deliver to every mile,” she added.

That means delivering communications and data in austere environments where there might be GPS and radio jamming, where commandos have to covertly enter an area of operations, communicate secretly with a higher headquarters, and get out within 72 hours.

To accomplish that, the command needs “resilient communications,” she said.

The CIO wants to deliver software-enabled hardware. “So no longer as a CIO, do I want to have to actually figure out how to deliver two pallets of hardware to an austere environment and ensure that I have a team in place and that I have HVAC and all of the support that's there,” she said.

“What I really want is ... [to] enable the hardware that we currently have in place,” she said. That could be  from a phone, an unattended ground sensor or a router to something as sophisticated as an artificial intelligence-enabled computational processor. Just as an iPhone or iPad is updated, “we can enable hardware to be computationally different from what it was originally deployed to be, and then return it back to its original place,” Costa said.

Once that software-enabled hardware is in place, then it’s a matter of accessing it. That’s where the “breaking glass" part comes in.

One critical area Costa is working on is “federated SOF data fabric,” she said. “We no longer can afford to put our data into mission silos. That data has to be discoverable to everyone security classification that is provided. So we are working that on every classification system,” she said.

Another focus is “single query, data search and discovery.” Operators must be able to do a single search for information, and then find it regardless of where it resides on the network, she said.

The CIO is also looking at “cloud in a box” and “clouds in space.”

“Cloud in a box is essentially a turnkey product for private clouds in a virtualized environment. So it’s behind a firewall. It automates, and then self-provisions security, etc., for authorized users,” she said.

“We don't want to have to build these large data centers that are concrete, right? We want to provision very large data sets,” she said. One way to accomplish that is a cloud in space.

"SOCOM wants to create a software defined wide area network between low-Earth orbit satellites, mid-Earth orbit and high-Earth orbit satellites that communicate together to develop a highly resilient mesh,” she said.

Such technologies are not just an enablers anymore. “It is a shaper of our force, and it's a shaper of the environment in which our force operates,” she said.

Ten years ago, she would have said the force requirements shape the SOF information environment, but with such rapid developments in information technology, it is now almost the opposite.

“The folks who were forward, always got priority. And we were going to enable them no matter what, and that's still true today,” she said. However, there is no way that operators can know all the cutting edge developments taking place at startups, industry labs, incubators and in academia, she said.

“Our SOF professionals are agile learners, but we need to open up that aperture for them," she said. "We need to understand and know what is happening in the commercial marketplace and to ensure that we understand the future competitive landscape."

Topics: Special Operations

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