The Pentagon's groundbreaking IPv6 project hasn't broken much ground

The U.S. Department of Defense pledged to deploy IPv6 but hasn't made much progress, its Inspector General says

The U.S. Department of Defense hasn't followed through on its commitment to convert to IPv6, the new Internet standard designed to make room for an explosion of new connected devices.

The DoD demonstrated IPv6 in 2008 but then disabled the technology because it didn't have enough people trained to use it and was worried about potential security risks, according to a report by the Inspector General of the department. The Inspector General issued the report internally in December and on Monday released a redacted version to the public.

The current Internet Protocol, IPv4, doesn't meet battlefield needs, according to the report. Among other things, IPv6 would let troops quickly set up mobile, ad-hoc networks in the field. In addition, the slow transition to IPv6 has left the military without the expertise to identify malicious activity that uses the new protocol, the report said.

IPv6 is meant to replace IPv4, the protocol underlying most of the Internet today. The current system only allows for about 4.3 billion unique addresses, not enough to assign one to every device on growing mobile networks and the Internet of Things. IPv6 provides an effectively unlimited number of addresses.

However, the transition can be complicated and many enterprises and service providers have been slow to adopt IPv6. The DoD has used its own stated commitment to push vendors and others to support the new technology.

The Inspector General's report suggests the DoD's effort has been half-hearted, with potential implications that extend to the battlefield. Those in the department who were responsible for implementing IPv6 didn't make it a priority, coordinate their efforts or use available resources, the report said.

"As a result, DoD is not realizing the potential benefits of IPv6, including to battlefield operations," the report said. "Furthermore, the delay in migration could increase DoD's costs and its vulnerability to adversaries."

Even though the due dates for deploying IPv6 on some parts of the department's network were pushed back into 2015, DoD officials said last July that those dates were no longer valid and new targets would depend on the results of a pilot deployment. Meanwhile, one pilot system, the Defense Research and Engineering Network, had already been fully converted to IPv6 by 2009, the report said.

The Inspector General recommended the DoD set up a department-wide IPv6 transition office and working groups and take other steps to coordinate efforts.

Actually running out of IPv4 addresses isn't what drove the DoD to start pushing for IPv6 in the first place. It built the early network that became the Internet, and it has 18 percent of the world's IPv4 addresses. But IPv6 would allow the department to redesign its address space to accommodate future networks of sensors and other devices, the report said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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