The Defense Department’s top information systems officer emphasized the importance of protecting the joint force by being vigilant within DOD’s cyber battlespace during remarks today at a gathering of high-level military and civilian leaders from the defense and government technology communities.

Speaking at DefenseTalks 2024 in downtown Washington, Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner — who serves as both the director of Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the joint headquarters for DOD’s Information Network, or DODIN — addressed the dangers posed by U.S. adversaries and what DISA is doing to meet such challenges.

“I don’t think you can overstate the threat that we live in, in the cyber domain today. All you have to do is go look at open-source reporting,” Skinner told the crowd.

“And you can see that the People’s Republic of China is trying to get into our critical infrastructure … because they want to gain the strategic positional advantage,” he continued.  

“It’s our job to make sure that they don’t do that.” 

Skinner said that the partnerships among military, government and C-level civilian tech professionals are crucial to helping DISA better understand the cyber battlespace, and subsequently better protect the joint force from harm. 

“We continually ask for help in … simplifying the battlespace, so that the force — [and this] is a real difference between us and our adversaries — can do their job, can be proficient and not get bogged down with the technical complexities that some capabilities offer,” Skinner said. 

Skinner then began explaining “DISA Next”: the organization’s recently released five-year strategy that has a stated purpose “to drive this combat support agency’s priorities and initiatives to deliver capacity and capabilities to our warfighters,” according to Skinner’s written forward. 

Skinner explained that the core underpinning of the strategy is that, as a combat support agency, DISA always needs to be focused on “the bad day,” meaning the start of armed conflict. 

“We can’t lose sight of what’s going on day-to-day; we can’t lose sight of competition; we can’t lose sight of crisis,” Skinner explained.  

“But we have to be there for our combatant commands, and our departments, and our nation on ‘the bad day.'” 

Skinner explained to be best prepared for “the bad day,” DISA’s strategy must focus on four strategic imperatives: operating and securing the DISA portion of DODIN; supporting strategic command, control and communications, or C3; optimizing/modernizing the network; and operationalizing — meaning proactively collecting, storing, correlating and interpreting — incoming data. 

“The networks that we provide have to be ready. As we look at diversity of transport, there is not one mission that I know of that happens in the department of defense, that DISA is not underpinning — not one,” Skinner said, in reference to the strategy’s top imperative.

“So, think of that as [to] the importance of this agency [as] a combat support agency.” 

Regarding DISA’s imperative to deliver quality C3 capabilities up and down the chain of command during times of crisis, Skinner praised the various systems, capabilities and networks that DISA employs — including one system that provides so many ancillary capabilities on its own that Skinner likened it to using tax preparation software. 

“You don’t have to be the experts,” he noted.   

As to DISA’s imperative to optimize/modernize the data, Skinner said that there is a push within DOD to unify DODIN while at the same time divesting from suboptimal solutions.  

According to the new strategy, optimization is critical to DISA’s ability to deliver on the DOD and joint force needs.  

When addressing the fourth imperative to operationalize incoming data, Skinner said he likes to think of it in terms of having “analytic superiority” — something he believes artificial intelligence will play a large part in. 

“I caution that [AI] is not a panacea for everything,” Skinner said. “But it is a huge game changer if you understand the problem you’re trying to solve; and you understand how you can leverage that; and [you] understand the risks associated … and you’re actually spending the time to train the models going forward.” 

Skinner rounded out his remarks by reemphasizing the importance of partnership in information technology. 

“Partnership is critical,” he said. “And … what sets us apart is our partnerships like these engagements, and partnerships that we [have] each and every day to enable [DOD] and the nation to be successful.”

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