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The nature of warfare is changing. The domains of land, sea, and air are now joined by a fourth domain – cyberspace. And by 2028, the United States Army will be transformed into a force synchronized to conduct Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). To support MDO, the Army is working to establish the secure sharing of data with the speed and range necessary to deliver information where and when it is needed. This ability is called network convergence, and it is key to the future of the Army. 

To share data in real-time anywhere in any theater, the Army needs global connectivity. And it needs to align the enterprise systems used by stationary forces to the tactical sphere on the battlefield. In practical terms, this means that tactical formations must be able to plug into a unified network from wherever they are deployed and instantly acquire the information needed to conduct effective operations. The technology that supports this capability is referred to as a unified network.

The network as a weapons system

A unified network is built with interoperable tools and technologies. Historically, networks were siloed and typically included off-the-shelf technologies that didn't work with products used by other networks. This limitation impacted real warfighters in real engagements when units were unable to join a network immediately upon entering a theater.

Not only do forces need to acquire data while in the theater, but Army leaders need a singular view of the data those forces provide. The insights gained by commands, fuel better decision-making. In the words of Gen. James C. McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army, "Overmatch will belong to the side that can make better decisions faster."

A unified network moves technological complexity up the chain so the network can be managed at a distance. This is achieved through a software-defined network (SDN), which is an architecture that abstracts the control plane and centralizes management, meaning that network operators can interact with the network through friendly user interfaces rather than having to write, test, and deploy code. 

This architecture relieves forces closer to the fight from the distraction of IT chores. "You don't place (complexity) at the lowest possible level," said Lt. Gen. John Morrison, the Army's G-6. "That's not how industry does it. It's not how the United States Army should do it."

The Army calls this vision for a robust modern network Unified Network Operations (UNO). The UNO program provides a simplified, interoperable, and standardized framework for network operations that centralizes the management of enterprise and tactical network environments. UNO is available through the Global Enterprise Modernization Software and Services (GEMSS) program, an innovative vehicle that streamlines procurements related to network modernization.

The framework for the future of the Army

The UNO program is part of a larger Army Digital Transformation Strategy (ADTS) initiative. ADTS aims to digitally transform all Army technologies, processes, and people by providing an overarching framework. The goal is to achieve a digital Army that can overmatch through joint MDO by 2028.

ADTS aligns with wider Army and DoD modernization strategies – all of which promote the evolution of a more ready, lethal, and modern force over the next six years.

"Going digital is … about how we can operate as an Army … empowering our workforce, and re-engineering our rigid institutional processes to be more agile," said Dr. Raj Iyer, CIO, US Army. The first step in meeting these goals is building a modern network.

Source: Army, "Army Unified Network Plan." 2021

Network convergence through a single source

Traditional networks were hardware-centric, relied on perimeter-based security, and tracked network data. A modern unified network is software-driven, uses automation to perform tasks at scale, has security built in from the ground up, and performs pre-emptive monitoring and troubleshooting.

The Army has worked to improve network readiness by aligning a single Army service provider, Cisco, the industry-leading networking, cloud, and cybersecurity company. Cisco is capable of delivering standardization and interoperability, increasing the Army's cybersecurity posture, and enabling rapid Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) responses. These factors are considered to be critical conditions for a unified network.

Army IT leaders have access to Cisco DNA, a comprehensive set of software, hardware, support, and training capabilities that support network modernization through the Army's centrally funded GEMSS program.

GEMSS is a procurement vehicle that eases Army access to technical services and streamlines the acquisition of unlimited software licenses for Cisco routing, switching, and wireless technology.

Some of the ways Cisco DNA enables UNO include:

Commercial open standards throughout the architecture

Open-source standards fuel interoperability, while the Cisco DNA network controller future-proofs the network to address advancements such as Infrastructure-as-Code. By using Cisco DNA, the Army's unified network can seamlessly activate third-party innovations and integrate cloud technologies. Network operations are simplified, and powerful network automation, open APIs, and standards-based protocols are ready to implement out of the box.

Zero Trust architecture

Identity-driven, location-independent access is a foundational element in Cisco DNA. Micro-segmentation supports granular policy controls while users are continuously authenticated. Traffic patterns are monitored down to the device level. User access and privileges across the network are regulated through the use of templates, which ensures performance even on congested networks.

In practical terms, troops can be moved and unit tasks reorganized without delays caused by network changes.

Intent-based networking

Authorized users can write policies in plain English, and Cisco DNA will automatically transform them into machine-readable code understood by all devices on the network.

This policy-driven management, combined with automation and continuous monitoring, ensures interoperability from the enterprise cloud to the tactical edge, regardless of location. Every network point becomes a sensor that sends continuous app performance and user connectivity data in real-time, delivering the unified cyber-situational awareness necessary to visualize and defend environments.

Flexible, scalable SD-WAN

Cisco DNA SD-WAN uses a Plan-Prepare-Execute workflow that leverages automation across all facets of the network. Traffic is consolidated for better access control, while standardization enables fast, flexible connections to different platforms. Network services can be rapidly instantiated and scaled to network services using digitized endpoints, which are protected by advanced automation and policy- and identity-based micro-segmentation.

Getting started with Cisco DNA

As the Army's partner on GEMSS, WWT offers operating-level expertise and advice to help organizations modernize and unify their networks with Cisco DNA.

We provide a centralized means to manage licenses, access hardware, and acquire support, education, and training. This means Army network engineers and managers can leverage the benefits of Cisco innovation without getting mired down in contractual details.

Questions about SD-WAN, software-defined access (SD-A), or other technologies needed to build a unified network? WWT can connect Army customers with a GEMSS expert who can, at no cost, build a roadmap that helps them understand how to implement Cisco DNA to support UNO and ADTS. From planning to execution, WWT is dedicated to supporting Army customers through GEMSS.

Learn more about GEMSS