Is it a phone or the basis for the military’s Joint Information Environment?

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect it is the Joint Chiefs of Staff and not DOD who expects to be 80 percent thin client by April 2014.

Dramatically, Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman gestured from the podium into the audience.

“Why don’t you stand up, chief,” he said to the uniformed man at the center table. “He’s got one of the kits here with him.”

It looked like a simple, corded phone inside a black suitcase — old school. But to Bowman — director of command, control, communications and computers and cyber/J6 at the Joint Chiefs of Staff — it was distinctly new school. It represented how the military must develop secure technology in a rapidly changing and often insecure cyberlandscape.

The secure mobile phone device — only developed in the last year — was brought to functionality through government partnership, private sector collaboration and a bullish push to get a prototype working ASAP, then make tweaks and improvements.

In fact, the kit Bowman showed off was the third iteration of the device since last fall, when a faulty secure landline during a high-level conference call led frustrated officials to seek a secure mobile option.

“It’s what we can do today — solve easy problems that were impossible to solve in the past,” he said. Later, he added, “Cloud, virtualization, interoperability — it’s there today. We can go with enterprises and save money. Enterprise licenses between the Army, Air Force and [Defense Information Systems Agency]. You save tons of money there.”

Speaking at the 2013 Emerging Technologies Symposium — organized by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association — Bowman bluntly explained how people and companies frequently let innovative technologies pass by them. It starts with confusion. Someone adopts a new technology, but doesn’t understand it. Instead of trying to adapt the new technology, it’s easier to defensively mock it or shame others for jumping on the bandwagon.

“If you’re a standup comedian, you’re really good at this,” he said.

But eventually, people start to accept it, and everyone forgets the initial resistance. “We start to tell everybody, ‘Yeah I knew that thing was going to be great from the start,’” Bowman said.

To Bowman, Joint Information Environment — the ability to deliver data to the Defense Department’s personnel wherever and whenever the data is needed — is in the early stages; the “it’s just a fad, it’s going to go away” phase.

But the phone, and the robust secure mobile network it foreshadows, means JIE is not far off. It started as a system for secure phone calls, “then one day, somebody said, ‘Hey, this would be pretty cool if we could do data,’” Bowman said. “What we did was partner with DISA and [National Security Agency]. DISA and NSA were able to take commercial technology and commercial cell providers and came up with a way to do 3G and 4G secure phone calls.”

Which soon mean the secure network could also “do data” and email — “not easily, but we’ll get there,” he said, adding the Joint Chiefs of Staff expects to be 80 percent thin client by April 2014. “We need to capitalize on what’s out there already. We don’t need niche systems. We need to be prepared to collaborate all along the way.”

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AFCEA, Air Force, Army, Cybersecurity, Defense Information Systems Agency, Department of Defense (DOD), Departments, Marines, Military, mobile and wireless, mobility, National Security Agency (NSA), Navy, Tech
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