Military Embedded Systems

GUEST BLOG: Enabling warfighter collaboration with cross-domain solutions


October 12, 2023

George Kamis


GUEST BLOG: Enabling warfighter collaboration with cross-domain solutions

Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) declared integrated deterrence one of its key themes. In the simplest terms, integrated deterrence refers to the DoD’s ability to share information seamlessly between branches, allies, partners, and classification levels.

While zero trust has been a huge focus for the DoD, and for good reason, the ability to work across domains requires reinforcement from cross-domain technology, which is increasingly being embedded inside weapons and other assets at the tactical edge. Doing so offers warfighters an advantage, as timely gathering of intelligence and rapid reaction times are crucial to military success.

There are many ways the DoD can implement cross-domain solutions for their information-sharing requirements: by using a multilevel device that’s embedded with cross-domain technology, which minimizes the amount of equipment that must be brought into the field, or by using standalone cross-domain solutions to link existing devices. The former lets data be rapidly processed at the edge, as opposed to having to be sent back to a cross-domain system locally or in the enterprise. The latter increases the effectiveness of what agencies already have, though it can introduce latency and may not be available in contested environments.

Let’s take a closer look at the importance of cross-domain technology for warfighter collaboration.

The shortcomings of zero trust

Between the president's executive order and CISA’s maturity model, zero trust has taken center stage in the government space. The growing buzz around zero trust network architecture is warranted, but zero trust alone is not enough to support federated activity for multi-domain operations. The reality is, zero trust runs up to its limits when it comes to data-sharing across security levels. Working across levels is not as simple as consolidating information into a single domain, then applying zero trust principles to it.

In fact, in the NSA’s recently released “Embracing a Zero Trust Security Model” guidance, the agency highlighted the shortcomings of zero trust for federated activity, noting that “Zero Trust mechanisms do not remove requirements for cross-domain solutions, especially when information sensitivity differences create excessive risk or when maturity levels vary widely.” Sharing intel across sensitivity levels is common for the DoD, and central to its success.

For example, open source data, that’s crucial to all missions, may need to be brought up from the “Unclassified” level to the “Secret” level. At the same time, intelligence data that is at the “Top Secret” classification level may need to be pushed down to the warfighter operating at the “Secret” level. This may require the stripping of highly classified information. Such highly classified information, such as how the intel was gathered, may be nonessential information to the warfighter, when they are just interested in knowing where adversary is located along with their capabilities.

The main point is that cross-domain technology is required to transfer this information between classification levels. Not just any cross-domain technology, either, but solutions that have been assessed and vetted by the NSA’s National Cross Domain Strategy & Management Office (NCDSMO).

Speed as tactical advantage

On the battlefield especially, the ability to access and exchange data across segmented domains of different classification levels is integral to collaborative warfighting. But data must only be shared when necessary, and when sharing is combined with proper validation and redaction. The benefits of cross-domain technology are even greater when information can be processed directly at the edge.

To that end, the government is not the only one leveraging cross-domain functionalities – cloud providers are doing it too. As the DoD and intelligence community make a big push into the cloud, more providers are providing cross-domain capabilities so the work being done there can be transferred to end users at different classification levels on different clouds.

The bottom line is that warfighters at the tactical edge need information – and they need it now. The ability to share information quickly, accurately, and securely represents a tremendous advantage in the field. That’s why the DoD is increasingly embedding cross-domain technology inside weapons and other military assets.

The DoD has been working towards rapid interoperability and data sharing between defense systems, including suppliers and coalition partners, for several years now. But multinetwork security solutions, including cross-domain technologies, can further enhance collaboration to improve decision quality and deliver a strategic tactical advantage – ideally eliminating the need for redundant devices and improving the effectiveness of warfighters across branches.

George Kamis is CTO, Global Governments and Critical Infrastructure, at Forcepoint.

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