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What IPv6 Brings to the Fight
by Eric Lubeck, Air Force Communications Agency &
Daniel Eickmeier, Booz|Allen|Hamilton, Air Force IPv6 Transition Management Office

U. S. Air Force Communications Agency Logo

Air Force planners envision a network-enabled future where every Airman, aircraft and piece of equipment across the Air Force network will be IP addressable. The transition to IPv6 is a critical enabler providing decision superiority, greater speed and greater precision in the conduct of net-centric operations in the global ground, air and space domains.

Air Force Transition Organization and Management

The Air Force transition from IPv4 to IPv6 will require a comprehensive transition management plan and a supporting organizational structure to effectively oversee the breadth of the task. The scope of the transition extends to every Air Force system, network, program, device or component that uses IP in any manner. It includes communications infrastructure and applications as well as the rapidly expanding IP addressable devices within sensors and weapon systems. Initially, thorough assessments and tests are needed to ascertain required engineering, procurement, testing, implementation and budget actions. As such, an Air Force IPv6 Transition Management Office (TMO) has been established under the direction of the Air Force Communications Agency with oversight by the Air Force CIO (AF-CIO).

Due to the breadth of impact this policy will have on Air Force programs, a centralized Air Force-level management approach is required to ensure successful transition. Proper planning will circumvent many long-term problems and lead to a seamless transition. Transition planning will help prevent future systems from being obsolete or diminished in capacity shortly after they are fielded. The Air Force IPv6 TMO is developing a transition plan and transition strategy that will address the implementation, management and tracking of Air Force systems and programs that will implement IPv6. The intent for this plan/strategy as it evolves is to:

  • Assure interoperability with Joint, Allied and NATO forces
  • Minimize the need to retrofit solutions and upgrade systems currently being developed
  • Provide new or improved capabilities offered by IPv6 earlier in the system lifecycle
  • Mitigate the risks associated with using a new technology or protocol
  • Accurately assess cost and scheduling impacts

Policy Framework for IPv6 Acquisition

A key tenet of the Department of Defense (DoD) and Air Force transition strategy is to minimize later transition costs by ensuring that the products and systems that have been procured, acquired or in development after Oct. 1, 2003, are capable of operating on IPv6 networks. Capable products and systems acquired must maintain interoperability in today's IPv4 world. Given the DoD's generally long technology refreshment cycle and lengthy development timelines, this direction is intended to posture DoD and the Air Force for completing a transition to IPv6 with minimal cost and impact to current capabilities.

The decision to turn on IPv6 is a separate decision by the DoD that must only be made based upon detailed transition planning and engineering. The DoD and Component Services are working together to develop an event-based timeline showing when critical infrastructure will be ready to transition. The DoD's goal is to be ready to "turn on" IPv6 capability by FY 2008. Realistically, it is expected that for some systems (e.g., those comprising DoD's IPv6 pilot implementations) IPv6 capability will actually be used earlier in the transition period. In the interim, many of the systems capable of IPv6 operations will be using IPv4. Hence, it is critical that systems and equipment that are procured, developed or acquired today be capable of operating in IPv4, IPv6 or hybrid IPv4/IPv6 environments.

DoD Interim Transition Guidance

On Sept. 29, 2003, the DoD issued a memorandum providing interim IPv6 transition guidance. This memorandum provided clarifying information on the definition of "IPv6 capable," and described the DoD Information Technology Standards Registry (DISR) efforts. Following is an excerpt from that memorandum:

"What is IPv6 Capable? An IPv6 capable system or product shall be capable of receiving, processing, and forwarding IPv6 packets and/or interfacing with other systems and protocols in a manner similar to that of IPv4. Key aspects of the current criteria to be deemed IPv6 capable are:

  • Conformant with the DISR developed IPv6 standards profile. A comprehensive list of mandated and emerging IPv6 technical standards, are identified in the DISR online database. Because of the ongoing standardization work, it is expected that this profile will be updated periodically through the work of the IPv6 technical working group.
  • Maintain interoperability with IPv4 (specifically, assets being developed, acquired, or procured must be able to operate on/coexist on a network supporting IPv4 only, IPv6 only, or a hybrid of IPv4 and IPv6)."

Therefore, it is important that IP-enabled capabilities acquired today have a clear IPv6 migration/upgrade path and support. It is also important that our compliance expectations increase as standards mature further. In many cases, the impact of the IPv6 capable requirement on new procurements, developments or acquisitions should be relatively minor. With the great increase of processor power, the impact from the requirements for additional processing to operate in an IPv4 and IPv6 environment should be limited (where IPv6 products are available in the marketplace).

The Air Force is well on its way toward planning for the transition to IPv6. However, there are still many unique challenges and pieces of the puzzle left to fit together. To take the next step in the Air Force planning process, the AF-CIO signed out a memorandum on June 24, 2005, tasking all Air Force Major Commands (MAJCOM) to assess their entire inventory of IP-enabled components and to develop plans for IPv6 transition. The Air Force IPv6 TMO will take these transition plans and build an overall, event-based, Air Force IPv6 transition strategy. Our primary goal is to maintain vital communications interoperability during this transition phase.

Eric Lubeck, Air Force Communications Agency
&
Daniel Eickmeier, Booz|Allen|Hamilton, Air Force IPv6 Transition Management Office