SAN ANTONIO, TX – The Defense Intelligence Agency made a “significant” award last month to begin modernizing the global network relied upon by agencies to share top-secret information.

DIA awarded a contract to modernize the Wide Area Network (WAN) for the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System in mid-November, officials here said.

The potential value of the contract is classified, and the officials declined to identify the winning company while the award is in the “protest stage,” when a competing firm could still dispute the selection.

“It is, I’ll just say, a significant investment from the program’s perspective, as that vendor will do a large amount of the support for our program,” Katie Lipps, chief of the JWICS Program Management Office, said during a media roundtable at the annual Department of Defense Intelligence Information System (DoDIIS) conference.

Lipps said the contract could last up to eight years, with one base year and seven option years.

JWICS is a secure, internal network used to transmit information classified as top-secret.

“It has become the connective tissue that brings everything together, whether that’s collection or it’s analysis, that supports strategic competition, such as where we’re going with Russia and China, and intelligence and how we need to share that not only across agencies, but now also with broader federal partners,” DIA Chief Information Officer Doug Cossa said.

But the network has not undergone a significant overhaul since its inception, and officials have long acknowledged the need for major upgrades. Last year, the DIA Office of Inspector General announced it would audit plans for JWICS to ensure they are “designed to maintain network resiliency by meeting present and future security and capability requirements.”

The award of the WAN contract comes as DIA kicks off a new, five-year JWICS modernization plan this year, Lipps said. The plan includes “tech refresh” efforts to ensure the network uses up-to-date components.

“We have historically not been able to keep up with a good tech refresh cycle, and that first line of effort is going to help us maintain a healthy five year tech refresh cycle, which is critical in an IT environment, where you have the pace of it constantly changing,” she said.

DIA also plans on introducing new cybersecurity controls into JWICS, including shifting to a “zero trust” architecture. The agency has also established a proactive “cybersecurity inspection” program for the local JWICS networks that focuses on risks to an organization’s operations, rather than compliance, according to Tim Sydnor, chief of the cyber and security division at DIA.

“It’s not just, ‘You’re not compliant with this policy, but here is how your operational mission might face disruption, how the information might be manipulated without your control, integrity and confidentiality of the data might be placed at risk,’” Sydnor said.

Cossa said emerging JWICS requirements include demand for more “mobility” to provide connectivity in “some of the most difficult possible places” to do so.

“Traditionally our networks have been terrestrial . . . physical fiber lines, undersea cables that connect the world,” Cossa said. “Now we have to think in terms of, what if that doesn’t exist in the future, especially in those hard to navigate areas? How do we use something like secure satellite communications that offers the cyber protections we need to actually be able to transmit the type of information that we do on JWICS?”

DIA is also exploring the future architecture of JWICS under the modernization program, and the new contract will help move the effort forward, according to Lipp.

“The contract is structured so that this vendor will provide the majority of the day-to-day operations support for the JWICS architecture,” she said. “And then we do have some optional capabilities within the contract. . . where we could leverage the contract and the vendors that are on that contract to perform engineering functions for the future architecture, some of the capabilities we talked about looking into in the future, like mobility.”