The Department of the Air Force faces challenges specific to its mission as it develops the smart base of the future.
The Department of the Air Force faces structural challenges in developing “smart bases” as part of the Pentagon’s department-wide initiative, but sees zero trust as a key approach to successfully modernizing its bases to handle interconnected devices and sensors.
Building out smart bases across the entire DAF means connected devices that power day-to-day administrative activities and mission-sensitive devices such as military IoT sensors, intelligence platforms, data access platforms, repair and maintenance devices, and specific weather, security and safety. for the Air Force.
“Air Force has an interesting challenge,” Air Force CTO Jay Bonci said during the “Smart Bases for Defense” webcast hosted by Defense News this week. “Because our bases are Air Force projection platforms … we have to think about them differently from how we operate our missions there and how we do things like our critical space mission and our Air Force maintenance and logistics operations. There are a number of things. for us that are much closer to the mission when we think about smart devices.”
As the service modernizes its systems, priorities include network support for all smart and cloud-connected devices, including government and commercial cloud. DAF also considers how to safely introduce new technology, including ensuring that devices are properly manufactured with documented hardware and software supply chains.
“There’s a lot of very interesting challenges going on, you know, the kind of smart tire concept, but really when you boil it down, it’s a proliferation of devices. It’s a proliferation of data paths, and it’s ways to to automate what, you know, our aircraft and our guardians do today,” said Bonci.
The DAF aims to keep interconnected networks and sensors safe with guidance from the DOD’s zero trust strategy. The DAF requires secure, resilient transport, segmented between devices with a full understanding of those devices’ manufacturing history, supply chains, how they are used and how they handle data.
“We’re not far off, really … we’re very focused on the wide open backfield which is our traditional devices, our applications, our networks,” Bonci said. “But as we develop and deploy the infrastructure for zero trust starting in fiscal year 23, we’ll be able to support doing more of these things, allowing foundations to make smarter choices for hybrid computing … give these types of devices how you make sure they can’t reach such critical mission assets.”
Although the Air Force has one large enterprise, it is extremely difficult to implement zero trust with many sub-enterprises with specific challenges to their ecosystem.
“We’re in a phase right now where we’re gathering,” Bonci said. “We understand what our plans are … we are starting to carry them out and then gather in places where other lessons are being learned … What do we need to learn from each other? What are the policy pieces? What are the gaps? There’s a lot of documentation, and frankly, work that we need to do so that we can even hit ‘publish’ internally to understand where those areas are, and then how we’re prioritizing for infrastructure upgrades across our 180 locations.”
The DAF is preparing to publish its own zero trust roadmap at the start of 2023 to complement previous security strategies.
“There are a lot of different efforts involved. Really, the first step is just to write them down and publish it and make sure we have a clear path forward so that people in the field know what’s coming, ” said Bonci. “They know what the various other siblings are doing out there. Whether you’re in a space mission, or a nuclear mission, or a weather mission, or an enterprise mission, or a logistics mission, understanding where … It’s to come in and provide the necessary infrastructure to keep moving.”