Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief, COTS Journal


For a technology editor like me, the responsibility of being careful with words and their meanings could be considered an occupational hazard. But since I delight in that side of my job I see it as a joy. An interesting part of that is acknowledging when terminologies become so pervasive they rarely need to be used. Such was the case with “electronics”, and then more recently “embedded”-and today even the term “COTS” isn’t necessary since at some level everything in the defense industry uses COTS components or systems.

Today, the latest buzzword gaining steam in the technology world is Internet-of-Things (IoT). When I first heard the term a couple years back I was pretty sure the defense industry would shy away from it. Perhaps the “things” part seemed out of place in the defense world. Fast forward to today and the military is very much interested in the technologies and capabilities of IoT. And it some ways it has been way before the term IoT surfaced. In its basic sense an IoT network is a connection of sensors, embedded devices and systems. That’s really the same sort of architecture is essentially what the DoD has been calling “net-centric” operations for more than a decade now.

It’s been an ongoing goal of U.S. military operational strategy to grow an interconnected network of sensors, shooters, command, control and intelligence. This network-centric idea includes programs to build joint architectures and roadmaps for integrating joint airborne networking capabilities with the evolving ground, maritime and space networks. That sounds very IoT-substitute “Global Information Grid” for “cloud” and you’re pretty much there.

Any discussion of network-centric technology is incomplete without including Cisco Systems. A little history: According to the company, in 1987 it was a Cisco MGS router that became the DoD’s first widely fielded Internet Protocol (IP) component when it was deployed to connect into the newly established Defense Data Network. Since then, the DoD has collaborated closely with Cisco in multiple core network and edge-implantations of the DoD’s networks including what is today called the DoD Information Network (DoDIN).

Cisco’s routing, switching, unified communications, and security technologies enabled all the wired and wireless (SATCOM) infrastructures necessary for the DoD’s global coverage. Meanwhile net-centric tactical communications programs have used Cisco technology across all branches of the U.S. Military. Examples along those lines include: the Army’s Warfighter Information Network -Tactical (WIN-T); the Air Force’s Theater Deployable Communications  (TDC); the Navy’s Automated Digital Network System (ADNS); and the Marine Corps’ Comm On the Move. Airborne platforms using Cisco technologies include the Navy P3 and TRITON Air Force AWACS, JSTARS, VIP Aircraft, C130s, and Global Hawk.

In many ways a desire to use gear from the IT and telecom industries has been driven the types of form factor choices made in some military programs. The emergence of 1U rackmount servers on vehicle mounted systems for example happened I believe because system developers needed computing systems to work alongside 1U rackmount routers from Cisco and other comms gear from various vendors.

All that’s flipped on its head however because now Cisco’s-switching and routing technologies are being embedded into the box-level products of Cisco’s partners in our embedded computing industry. Vendors including Curtiss Wright, Extreme Engineering, Elma and General Micro Systems offer a variety of board- and box-level system that provide the functionality of a Cisco router either stand-alone or now often integrated with many other mission computing hardware. The need for unwieldy rack-mounted gear becomes unnecessary when more rugged stand-alone box systems can provide the same functionality.

To reflect where were are today with IoT, Cisco has been using the term The Internet of Everything (IoE)-the concept being that with each new person, process, piece of data, or thing that comes online, the connection possibilities between all these elements grow exponentially. The Internet of Everything makes all such connections more relevant and valuable. The focus is not on the number of connections creating the value but rather the value of the outcomes these connections make possible. This concept has direct applicability to the Department of Defense, according to Cisco. Securely extending the network to the edge and provides unprecedented access, agility, and capability for the DoD.

Whether it’s IoT or IoE, one potential sticking point to the casual observer is the word “Internet” itself. It conveys usually incorrectly that it’s about using the public cloud, the Word Wide Web (how’s that for an outdated term?). Here again is a case where maybe only the non-engineer, non-technical people get mixed up. While it’s true that commercial and consumer IoT implementations will often-but not always-rely on the public Internet, it’s important to think of IoT as more about using Internet Protocol (IP) networking technologies. Not matter what words are used, net-centric systems are a powerful asset to our military, and it’s great to know our embedded computing industry along with Cisco are providing the technologies that make it all happen.