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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

The Air Force is working with DoD and industry to accelerate widespread migration to cloud technology to enable faster decision-making, AI implementation, rapid data organization and improved IT security, Pentagon leaders said.

The multi-faceted cloud initiative includes data consolidation, reducing the hardware footprint, cyber “hardening” weapons systems and efforts to connect satellite ground terminals more seamlessly with one another; the key concept, of course, is to increase access to otherwise disparate pools of information, share data quickly and give combat commanders more options on a faster time frame.

“The Under Secretary of the Air Force and Vice Chief of Staff directed key Air Force organizations and stakeholders to begin the transition of applications from legacy IT infrastructure to cloud environments,” Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Hope Cronin told Warrior Maven.

Pentagon cloud developers say automation and increased applications of AI are making a difference when it comes to improving cloud-network security. DoD efforts emphasize the often discussed two-fold cloud strategy which seeks to maximize both decentralized nodes and centralized servers and data access.

Having awarded a $1 Billion deal last year to Dell EMC, Microsoft and General Dynamics for massive cloud migration services, the Air Force is revving up cloud technology across a range of service networks and data systems. Called Cloud Hosted Enterprise Services by the Air Force, the deal is now quickly progressing into the integration phase.

The services enable data consolidation, collaboration software, email and document management, among other things. These initiatives also heavily emphasize the use of established commercial technologies such as Microsoft Office 365 and cloud service offerings such as Amazon Web Services and Oracle, among others, a General Dynamics statement said.

There are a variety of respects in which cloud migration, fortified by AI, changes the paradigm for cybersecurity and data access. In one sense, cloud-based systems can potentially increase vulnerability by virtue of allowing intruders to more broadly access large data systems through fewer points of entry, should an attack be met with initial success.

Yet at the same time, cloud-enabled virtualization can network many security-oriented software applications and other measures able to much more quickly detect anomalies, defend broad networks and counter intrusions. By leveraging cloud technology, this kind of software can simultaneously protect multiple nodes in a more ubiquitous, far-reaching manner.

Cloud technology can also expedite helpful kinds of computer automation by offering much wider reach, among other things. For instance, Air Force developers are using advanced computer automation to replicate human behavior online – for the specific purpose of luring and tracking potential intruders. Algorithms can create online activity which resembles that of an individual user, leading intruders to think they are tracking a person when, in fact, they themselves are being tracked.

Also, AI can be used to perform real-time analytics on incoming traffic potentially containing malware, viruses or any kind of attempted intrusion. If the source, characteristics or discernable pattern of a cyberattack are identified quickly, cyber defenders are better positioned to respond. The cloud offers an opportunity to concurrently perform these functions across vast numbers of interconnected “nodes.”

Also, an often-discussed phenomenon seems to inform the Pentagon’s push for faster cloud migration, namely that multi-year government developmental programs are, in many instances, generating technical systems which are potentially obsolete by the time they are completed.

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“I am directing aggressive steps to establish a culture of experimentation, adaptation and risk-taking,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan wrote in a memo last year upon launching a new multi-service cloud initiative.

Commercial innovation, therefore, coupled with an open architecture framework, is intended to allow faster, wide-sweeping upgrades more consistent with the most current and impactful innovations.

“DoD is using a tailored acquisition process to acquire a modern enterprise cloud services solution that can support Unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret requirements. Known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud, the planned contracting action will be a full and open competition,” a Pentagon statement said.

Pentagon leaders of the JEDI program explain that cloud security will be approached in a measured way so as to ensure maximum data protections. They envision being able to generate secure secret networks in 6 months - and Top Secret cloud-based networks in 9 months.

Cloud Hardens Satellite Coms

By facilitating improved satellite ground terminal interoperability and network data sharing, cloud-based systems can also speed up SATCOM connectivity and allow command and control technology to expedite directives to satellites, industry developers have explained.

CACI is among a handful of industry developers, to include Hughes and ViaSat, who are currently exploring emerging technologies as a way to further protect and harden SATCOM connections and command and control. CACI uses a specific kind of new cloud-based battle management software engineered to integrate fast-emerging data from a wide range of “nodes” on a network.

“If there is a scenario in which there is a cyberattack that is ground based or space based which degrades assets, ultimately what happens is a sequence of decisions. Am I willing to take some risk?” Ryan Fairchild, Vice President and Division Manager, Space Operations, CACI, told Warrior Maven in an interview earlier this year.

For instance, Fairchild said emerging cloud systems could allow a combatant commander to quickly make an informed decision about whether to utilize a laser weapon or EW system.

Viasat has developed an Ethernet encryptor designed to improve security for cloud computing.

“Viasat KG-142 is a 100 Gbps Type 1 Ethernet encryptor delivering speeds ten-time faster than existing solutions. With the new encryptor, government users can better meet the bandwidth need for cloud-computing and real-time data transport across the battlespace,” a Viasat statement said.

ViaSat developers describe the KG-142 as a high-speed, low-latency encryptor with integrated security standards and software upgradeable designs aimed at minimize the need for hardware changes.

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Kris Osborncan be reached