NY Times on the DOD’s “War Net”

On November 13, 2004, in Research, by Peter Harsha

Tim Weiner has an interesting piece in today’s New York Times about the Defense Department’s efforts to build it’s own Internet — the Global Information Grid. From the article:

The goal is to give all American commanders and troops a moving picture of all foreign enemies and threats – “a God’s-eye view” of battle.
This “Internet in the sky,” Peter Teets, under secretary of the Air Force, told Congress, would allow “marines in a Humvee, in a faraway land, in the middle of a rainstorm, to open up their laptops, request imagery” from a spy satellite, and “get it downloaded within seconds.”

The total cost of the project is expected to run to $24 billion over the next five years, plus an additional $5 billion for data encryption technologies.
Weiner quotes Vint Cerf in the piece, who is consulting on the project:

Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet and a Pentagon consultant on the war net, said he wondered if the military’s dream was realistic. “I want to make sure what we realize is vision and not hallucination,” Mr. Cerf said.
“This is sort of like Star Wars, where the policy was, ‘Let’s go out and build this system,’ and technology lagged far behind,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with having ambitious goals. You just need to temper them with physics and reality.”

As we’ve noted before, DOD funding policies — especially at DARPA — have likely hamstrung some of technological progress that will be required to make full use of DOD’s network-centric strategy. University researchers, who played an important role in the development of the ARPANET, are increasingly unable to participate in DARPA-led networking research because much of that work is classified. Additionally, the style of the DARPA-sponsored research — more short-term rather than long-term — and a milestone-based approach to awarding the funding, with go/no-go decisions at 12 to 18 month intervals, isn’t well-suited to a university research setting. Because researchers are unwilling to propose work that can’t demonstrate results in 12-18 months, what’s proposed tends to be evolutionary, incremental research, rather than revolutionary proposals. And it looks like the new network may need some revolutionary proposals to reach its full potential:

To realize this vision, the military must solve a persistent problem. It all boils down to bandwidth.
Bandwidth measures how much data can flow between electronic devices. Too little for civilians means a Web page takes forever to load. Too little for soldiers means the war net will not work.
The bandwidth requirements seem bottomless. The military will need 40 or 50 times what it used at the height of the Iraq war last year, a Rand Corporation study estimates – enough to give front-line soldiers bandwidth equal to downloading three feature-length movies a second.
The Congressional Research Service said the Army, despite plans to spend $20 billion on the problem, may wind up with a tenth of the bandwidth it needs. The Army, in its “lessons learned” report from Iraq, published in May, said “there will probably never be enough resources to establish a complete and functioning network of communications, sensors, and systems everywhere in the world.”
The bottleneck is already great. In Iraq, front-line commanders and troops fight frequent software freezes. “To make net-centric warfare a reality,” said Tony Montemarano, the Defense Information Security Agency’s bandwidth expansion chief, “we will have to precipitously enhance bandwidth.”

Anyway, an interesting piece. Read the whole thing.