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Defense Department Demonstrates Compliance with the OMB IPv6 Mandate

Department now looks forward to achieving net-centric operational vision

IPv6 is “critical to achieve our net-centric vision”, said Kris Strance, DoD Lead for IP Policy, speaking at the Information Assurance Collaboration Forum (IACF) in Laurel, Maryland last week.

The Defense Department sees the proliferation of IP-addressable devices as a key driver for IPv6 adoption, and does not believe that IPv4 can satisfy its future requirements. The imminent explosion of non-traditional IP-enabled devices that Defense intends to implement may even threaten the large IPv4 address allocations that the Department holds.

“As we move to large sensor networks, we are going to need the IPv6 address space,” asserted Strance. “IPv6 will touch everything.”

The Department sees IPv6 as allowing for robust networking, wireless on the move, the agility necessary to form dynamic communities of interest, mission assurance, and collaboration with joint, allied, coalition, federal and non-government organizations.

“When we went into Iraq, it took about 2 months to create an operational network. IPv6 will allow that achievement in hours,” said Strance.

The Defense Department has been a leader in IPv6 deployment, creating a transition strategy prior to the June 2008 Office of Management and Budget mandate that is currently pushing other Government agencies to make the transition. The Department issued memorandums in 2003 that required all new information technology products and systems acquired after October 1, 2003 to be IPv6 capable, allowing the transition to begin gradually through the natural technology refresh process. The memorandums also set goals to complete transition by 2008, a goal that Defense is finding difficult to achieve.

The Department recently complied with the OMB mandate by demonstrating its ability to route IPv6 traffic from its continental United States (CONUS) network to the Pacific and back. Despite the progress, the Department sees many IPv6 transition challenges. Migration must coincide with technology refresh rather than being funded separately, thus it must compete for funding with other priorities. Additionally, the Department views managing the transition in the complex DoD environment as a major risk. Maintaining interoperability and security are paramount, and the Department is finding that some commercial products are lacking in robust IPv6 functionality.

The Department will first transition its Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet). Then it will transition its classified network, the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet).

“The pacing factor for SIPRNet is the availability of high assurance IP encryptors (HAIPE) compatible with IPv6.” These devices are not expected until around 2010, added Strance.

The Department has other concerns that are not often seen in the commercial world, such as the performance of IPv6 over low bandwidth mobile environments. Many tactical units still operate using 64Kbps channels. These links are small enough to be affected by the IPv6 header, which is significantly larger than the IPv4 header.

“The value of IPv6 is at the tactical edge” rather than the core, but the core must transition first, said Strance.

By Dan Campbell, President, Millennia Systems, Inc.

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