MCLEAN, VA: In what could be an important sign of confidence in the future of the Pentagon’s controversial cloud computing initiative, JEDI, the Army’s new augmented reality training system may rely on it.
We’re “looking at STE and IVAS as our initial offerings when it comes to JEDI,” the Army CIO, Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, told an AFCEA conference here this week. All the services, he added, are now looking for potential “early adopters” in time for the initial launch of JEDI’s unclassified capability in early February.
“The Cloud Computing Program Office” – which reports to the Pentagon CIO, Dana Deasy – “has coordinated with both the Synthetic Training Environment (STE) and Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) Cross Functional Teams [in the army],” a Pentagon CIO spokesperson confirmed to Breaking Defense. “While both teams are interested in leveraging the commercial cloud technologies that the JEDI Cloud contract will offer, the CCPO does not have a timeline on STE and IVAS use of JEDI Cloud. The CCPO, nevertheless, looks forward to supporting the US Army’s efforts.”
So while there’s no set date – not yet – there is definite interest from both the Army and the joint world.
What the Army Needs
The Integrated Visual Augmentation System, developed by the Army’s Soldier Lethality team, is basically a militarized version of the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality goggles. By displaying digital data over the wearer’s field of view – without blinding them to the tactical reality around them – IVAS can show the soldier anything from the direction to their objective, to exactly where their next shot will go, to virtual adversaries with realistic tactics they can fight against in training simulations. It’s basically the equivalent of a fighter pilot’s heads-up display, miniaturized and ruggedized for the grunts.
In combat mode, IVAS will display real-world intelligence from the Army’s tactical network. But in training mode, the goggles will link the soldier into the new Synthetic Training Environment. STE is one of the Army’s Big Six modernization priorities: a massive effort to replace TKs of incompatible, clunky simulators for different weapons systems with cutting-edge, videogame-inspired training systems for aircraft, ground vehicles, and foot troops that let all combat arms train together.
The foundation of the Synthetic Training Environment will be a 3D digital model of the surface of the earth, known as One World Terrain. This mega-map draws on everything from the National Geospatial Imagery Agency’s intelligence database, which has details so fine you can distinguish different species of trees.
Army and Navy special operators are already using an early, limited version of One World Terrain to plan missions, but to cover the world you need a staggering amount of data. An individual soldier’s IVAS goggles, or even a command post server, can’t store it all, and they don’t need to, because they only require detailed maps of their actual area of operations. But where do you put the motherlode of data so everyone can download what they need?
“It’s got to be stored somewhere,” Lt. Gen. Crawford said. In the Army, he said, “we operate data centers, but we’re working to move them onto the cloud.”
“Cloud computing will allow the STE to store full resolution One World Terrain data, enable the performance of artificial intelligence and machine learning tasks, and distribute training to the point of need,” the Pentagon CIO spokesperson said.
The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure – JEDI – is the leading candidate to be that cloud. Lots of Defense Department organizations already have their own specialized cloud contracts, and JEDI won’t replace them all, but it is meant to provide a new default, easy-mode cloud-computing option for the whole Department, allowing compatibility across organizations and economies of scale.
“I’m not saying those capabilities don’t exist hither and yon, but for the very first time, this was the effort to deliver that capability across all of the services and the Department,” Crawford said, “at the unclass[ified], secret, and TS [Top Secret] levels.
“I’m asked this question many times, is there an interest from the Army in this capability?” he said. “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
That’s assuming the launch is allowed to go ahead. In October, after months of delays, reviews, protests, and public comments by the president, the Defense Department awarded the JEDI contract – potentially worth $10 billion – to Microsoft Azure. That shocked presumptive favorite Amazon Web Services, which swiftly filed suit. Because Amazon bypassed the traditional GAO protest process and went straight to court, there wasn’t an automatic stop-work order. Now the company has asked the court to issue one.
“AWS’s initial decision to allow DoD to proceed with the initial JEDI activities, and not seek to enjoin them, was an accommodation made at DoD’s request,” runs an Amazon email to reporters, “[but] on January 22nd, AWS filed a motion to stop further contract performance until the Court decides the protest.”
Whatever happens with JEDI, however, the Army will need more cloud. In the Army alone, “we’re going to spend about $730 million between now and FY 23 on the data cloud,” Crawford noted. Crawford came out with a new data strategy for the service last year, and since then, he said, “an execution order [is going to] every four-star headquarters, every three-star headquarters across the Army.”
Cloud is essential not just to the Army, he said, and not just to non-combat functions like training, but to the all-service effort to conduct multi-domain operations across land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace.
“If you don’t remember anything else that I say about data and our cloud efforts, remember what I say about the operational imperative: it’s all about enabling the multi-domain force,” Crawford told the AFCEA conference.
Multi-domain ops require a network to share targeting data and other tactical intelligence with “near-real time access for any sensor, any shooter, any command node. That’s a monumental task,” he said. “We can’t do that without harvesting our data, divesting legacy applications, and then moving the data that’s most important and authoritative in a cloud-hosted environment.”
That has to be a joint effort, he said, not just an Army one. But, I asked, what unique needs does the Army have that require Army-specific solutions? “I think it would be a mistake to start the discussion of delivering…a contribution to the joint fight, with an Army-only solution, or a Navy-only solution, or an Air Force-only solution,” Crawford replied.
Across the services, “we have as close a relationship in terms of collaboration that I’ve [ever] seen,” he said. “When it comes the migration of our data, the divestiture of our legacy applications, and the move to a cloud-hosting environment so we can really leverage what the Joint AI Center is doing … I think you’re seeing unprecedented collaboration across the joint community.”