Boots on the ground. International politics will change continuously and the threat environment will always evolve, but the need for boots on the ground will never cease. Allies around the world appreciate American military technology but, more than any piece of equipment we could send, they, and others in need, want the presence of U.S. Army soldiers. Because boots on the ground show the United States' commitment to stability and peace -- and because the American soldier is the most discriminate weapon system ever.

But as the U.S. military downsizes and defense spending is lowered, the question is: How will the Army remain ready and able to answer the inevitable call to execute combat, humanitarian assistance, partner training and other missions? And, keep in mind that, while the Army is the world's pre-eminent land force, our dominance continues to be tested; today's terrestrial operational challenges are greater than those on the seas, in the skies and in space.

The Army knows what characteristics it needs to be successful in this ever-evolving threat environment. The force must become leaner and more agile -- that is more adaptable, flexible and scalable across the entire range of operations. It must match or exceed today's lethality, mobility, range and level of force protection. And it must be expeditionary: able to respond on no notice, to deploy globally, to operate effectively in austere environments and to create overwhelming momentum upon entry.

Many elements will go into building this Army. One of the most crucial will be a modern, secure, globally available network.

Before leaving home station, while en route and after arrival in theater, Army units will receive real-time situational awareness and intelligence -- via the network. As soldiers move deeper and deeper into the theater, and further and further away from hardened bases, the network will go with them, giving them the information, communications, and command and control they need to execute the mission successfully and safely. To keep the force lean, agile and sustainable, certain functions and capabilities will remain at distributed mission command centers -- but they will be accessible, even at the tactical edge, through the network.

Building the Force Multiplier -- Security, Capacity, Mobility

Empowering the soldier and the decision maker is the core of the network's mission. Sounds straightforward -- but for the network to fulfill this role, especially in a rapidly evolving technological world, it must be carefully designed and constructed. In the most basic terms, the Army needs a unified, secure, flexible and resilient network that ensures information and critical warfighting capabilities are always available whenever and wherever they are needed. As the Army almost certainly will never operate alone, the underlying architecture and standards must also support and strengthen the Defense Department's Joint Information Environment. That means a virtually single network -- tactical to strategic; a common security architecture; consolidation of network and data center operations at the enterprise level; and common enterprise services that enable information sharing, collaboration and interoperability across DoD and among all action partners.

The Army already is making substantial progress in all of these areas. The functionality of many standalone networks that previously supported specialized activities, such as simulation exercises, coalition partner support and use of mobile devices, is being incorporated into the one network that will serve the entire Army. Data center consolidation is proceeding well, with more than 270 data centers now closed and the initiative on track to meet the goal of a 60 percent reduction by the end of fiscal year 2018. In addition to Defense Enterprise Email, the Army is implementing other enterprise services, most notably Unified Capabilities (UC), an integrated suite of Internet Protocol-based voice, video, chat and other data services.

All of these enhancements won't mean much, though, if the network isn't secure. The network that underpins both the Army's institutional and operational missions must be up and running 24/7/365, and soldiers and leaders must be confident that the information they convey and receive over the network has not been compromised. The Army and DoD are tackling the ever-evolving security threat on multiple fronts. The network is being divided physically and logically into manageable and securable zones that enforce consistent security policies; and traffic flow is being segmented to ensure proper, efficient security inspection and to isolate and contain malicious activity. The Army and DoD also are centralizing and consolidating the operations centers, tools and personnel that manage and defend the network.

Another key component of a better-protected network is Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS) and the associated Joint Management System (JMS). Together, JRSS and JMS will enable centralized network management and visibility, including web content filtering, security monitoring, intrusion detection, intrusion prevention and network protection at all installations and into the tactical edge. Additionally, the JRSS operational construct, which features shared infrastructure and security configurations, will quicken the dissemination of defensive cyber operations intelligence. Overall, the avenues of approach into Joint and Service networks will be fewer, allowing the Army and DoD to focus defense resources more effectively and to minimize degradations, outages and the impact of enemy attacks.

For the network to be always available and always able to meet ever-growing demand, the Army also must expand capacity -- from the network core all the way down to individual buildings on every Army installation worldwide. Currents efforts will increase network backbone bandwidth more than ten-fold to 100 gigabits per second (gbps) and individual installation capacity more than thirty-fold to 10 gbps. To maximize these bigger information "highways", the Army is implementing Multi-Protocol Label Switching, a virtual traffic management system that makes data move faster and improves command and control. The Army is building transport path diversity, as well, to help mitigate the risk of service disruptions and unscheduled outages, and to raise mission assurance.

Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) is the first location to receive the aforementioned capacity and security upgrades. The Joint team (Army, Air Force and DISA) recently completed the initial phases of modernization at JBSA; full operational capability is projected for winter 2014. Lessons learned at JBSA will inform full-scale implementation across the continental United States and around the world.

On top of security and capacity, the network also must offer mobility. Soldiers must be ability to operate en route -- that is, to obtain situational understanding and to participate in mission planning before they even land in theater. Once on the ground, they must be able to execute the mission with the smallest footprint possible. Despite austere conditions and distance, the headquarters and the dismounted solider must stay connected to the network and each other at all times.

Mobility is the answer. By making the network more robust, and extending the cloud and enterprise capabilities to the tactical edge, the Army will give the dismounted soldier and command posts the on-the-move capability necessary to succeed. To lighten the deployment load and make units more agile, the Army will automate network processes, trimming the number of technicians needed and shrinking power, space and weight requirements.

Keeping Signal Strong

Unlike the other domains of land, air, sea and space, the Cyberspace Domain is man-made. While the ocean and skies will always be present, cyberspace requires people to build it and keep it operational. This is the mission of the Signal soldier: ensuring that the network is available, reliable, secure and consistently modernized. And behind the soldier is the Signal Regiment, developing and maintaining network and cyber architectures, standards and policy.

But to master the evolving Cyberspace Domain, the Army must form a triad among Signal, Cyber and Military Intelligence forces and grow a highly skilled workforce for all three disciplines -- because structure is only as good as the people in it. The Army recently converted the Signal Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Georgia, into the Cyber Center of Excellence. The collocation of Signal, Cyber and Intelligence at Fort Gordon will facilitate a unified approach to cyberspace organizational design, capability development, and personnel development and education. Domination in the cyber arena requires complete command and control of the network, freedom of maneuver in cyberspace, a defense posture that is consistent and cohesive from the enterprise to the deployed formations at the tactical edge, and an offensive cyber capability. This Signal-Cyber-Intel triad will allow the Army to achieve this overmatch. To ensure that the Army has a trained and ready Signal force of adaptive and professional men and women, leader development and talent management must be paramount. The Army will invest in cultivating the best and brightest, and giving them continuing education and challenging assignment opportunities.

Into the Future

The Army is at an historical turning point. As the conflicts of the last 13 years wind down but the national security environment remains volatile, the Army will have to be careful to achieve balance. In practical terms, that means weighting investment in people and materiel toward operational capabilities, and devising a force optimized for mission preparation and successful execution -- whatever the situation may be.

With end strength diminishing, yet capability requirements growing and becoming more sophisticated, the Army faces a significant challenge. The network will be a major component of the solution. By giving the soldier and the commander the flexibility and mobility to build relentless momentum, and the situational understanding and information to produce lethal overmatch, the network will be the force and combat multiplier that keeps the Army always ahead of its adversaries.