The Department of Defense (DoD) is one of the most influential forces in shaping national technology standards. The DoD provides funding for many standards development organizations and participates directly in standards processes. The DoD approached ISTO to help them form a consortia in order to facilitate and expedite the publication of a standard. What was the result? We will break down the outcome in this article. 


First off, what are standards?

Standards can be published documents that establish specifications and procedures designed to maximize the reliability of the materials, products, methods, and/or services people use every day. Technology standards address a range of issues, including but not limited to various protocols to help maximize product functionality and compatibility, facilitate interoperability and support consumer safety and public health. In other words: standards are a way of ensuring that products and services are safe, reliable and compatible; they also maintain quality while reducing costs by making purchasing easier for companies with multiple locations who need equipment that will work together seamlessly.


How is the Department of Defense (DoD) involved in standards work?

The Department of Defense (DoD) has a significant role in setting standards, which it does through a variety of mechanisms. It is involved in technology standards work through working groups and committees that enable open discussion among industry experts, government officials, and members of the public prior to making decisions about what should be included in specific standards. In addition to its role as one of several stakeholders within the standards community, DoD also plays an important leadership role within the Federal Government. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) for each agency is responsible for developing policies and procedures that ensure information technology systems are secure and reliable while meeting needs across agencies. These policies and procedures rely on DoD security requirements when defining safeguard measures that must be implemented by system owners within their own organizations so they can comply with federal law or regulation (e.g., Federal Information Security Management Act).


Why should the Department of Defense care about standards?

The Department of Defense (DoD) uses standards as a tool to ensure that its products and services meet performance requirements while driving innovation. Standards are also used to specify test methods and evaluation criteria, safety of equipment, products, and personnel, environmental considerations, maintenance instructions and cost ownership/reduction.

Standards are used in multiple areas within the DoD including:

  • Acquisition – To ensure interoperability among systems during development or acquisition; for example, a set of standards can be used to define an interface between two different systems. Standards are also used for training purposes in order to provide consistency across all military branches.
  • Logistics – Standardization ensures that equipment is interchangeable between units allowing rapid deployment of trained units without having them spend time learning new equipment configurations in training before being sent into combat. This allows for the rapid resupply of spare parts when needed without risk due to incompatibilities with other units’ configurations which may have been created by another branch’s procurement system using different standards from what was originally intended by the original designer(s).
  • Training – Standardization allows instructors and trainers who teach similar courses at different locations or use different equipment types follow processes and methods for an expected outcome regardless of the variances. It makes it easier for instructors to teach courses because they don’t need extra training based on their experience using standardized procedures provided by DoDIGs.


Standards within the Department of Defense

The Department of Defense (DoD) has developed numerous standards, specifications, and handbooks that are used by all military branches. The DoD’s acquisition streamlining and standardization information system (ASSIST) database identifies approved defense and federal standardization documents, adopted non-government standards (NGS), and U.S. ratified material  from the International Standards Organization (ISO).

The following is a list of some of the most common defense specifications, standards, and handbook terms:

  • MIL-STD – Military Standard issued by the DoD.
  • MIL-SPEC – A specification from the DoD identifying a product or service as meeting specific performance requirements in accordance with a given military standard specification number.
  • DSP Procedures – The Department of Defense Standardization Program Procedures Manual defines how various organizations within the Department of Defense should proceed when developing or adopting new products or services that require national consensus procedures for review before their implementation through industry programs such as Industrial Cooperative Programs (ICP) or other agreements between government agencies, suppliers/contractors etc.


How ISTO Helped the DOD Publish Their Standards

The need was discovered by the DoD to deliver a data plane interface that provides the ability to transmit and receive digitized RF (radio frequency) or IF (Intermediate frequency) data respectively as well as corresponding metadata over standard IP networks. The interface is meant to be fully compliant with the Vita 49.2 Standards. To fulfill this requirement, ISTO first needed to start and establish a consortium for the DoD – and so the Digital Intermediate Frequency and Interoperability (DIFI) was born.

The mission of the Digital Intermediate Frequency Interoperability (DIFI) Consortium is to enable the digital transformation of space, satellite, and related industries by providing a simple, open, interoperable Digital IF/RF standard that replaces the natural interoperability of analog IF signals and helps prevent vendor lock-in. The Consortium’s objective is to provide and promote easy-to-implement standards for Digital IF and digital transformation related systems that will enable the space industry, including commercial and government operators, to confidently design, build, operate, and evolve multi-vendor satellite networks and ground systems.  

The Consortium came to IEEE-ISTO with a fully drafted standard – IEEE-ISTO Std 4900-2021: Digital IF Interoperability Standard. The Consortium has formed working groups to address the standard’s revisioning to better serve its members for RFP inclusion to its vendors. ISTO then aided the consortium to form a Specification Working Group 5 months after inception, and a Certification Working Group 9 months after formation. In all, ISTO supported the alliance to meet its goals through: 

  • Rapid formation
  • Legal and financial infrastructure
  • Experienced Program Management
  • Strategic guidance to the Alliance leadership
  • Proactive drafting of goals and objectives against KPIs that were accepted by the Board
  • Proactive leadership in standard tracking and versioning
  • Timely, detailed and accurate meeting minutes completion
  • Marketing Outreach Programs via web content and communications
  • Social media monitoring and content
  • Event Support


A Quote from DIFI’s Case Study

A.J. Vigil, Ph.D., P.E., who approached ISTO to collaborate is a major stakeholder in the formation of the DIFI consortium. Here is what he had to say about ISTO:

“When I approached IEEE-ISTO, less than two years ago, about supporting a consortium to publicly manage a Digital IF protocol standard, I had high hopes and strong expectations. In the year or so you’ve actually been doing so, your team shattered them all. Your folks have really delivered.

I remember reading their case studies on the IEEE-ISTO website, I remember registering “months” from formation to initial standardization, and I remember asking IEEE-ISTO officials to “break their record,” to shatter the timelines of their best online case studies.

They didn’t make any promises, but they did it. IEEE-ISTO delivered and then some.

In little over a year, we have the quality. Clear rules and bylaws, honest enforcement, dedicated leadership, regular meetings, regular progress, open opportunity for collaboration, and significant accomplishment.

In little over a year, we also have the quantity. We are up to over 50 members, covering all relevant areas of industry, and are on our second public release already of our interoperability standard.

IEEE-ISTO has been a dream come true for me, for my DOD SATCOM customer, and for Digital IF. IEEE-ISTO, through its DIFI Consortium, remains instrumental to the migration of SATCOM Earth segment architectures, both commercial and government, from L-Band analog to Digital IF.”



The Department of Defense is a large organization with many key stakeholders, and standards can help them better coordinate their efforts. Standards are also important for providing the public with confidence that defense programs will be delivered on time and within budget while providing an expected level of performance. The DoD has been a leader in developing standards for decades, but its work goes beyond just ensuring interoperability among systems; it also helps protect troops and military personnel by ensuring their equipment works as intended. IT industry standards play a necessary role within the Department of Defense. 


More About IEEE-ISTO

ISTO was established in January 1999 to meet the needs of today’s ever-changing technology alliances, consortiums, technology associations, and working groups. ISTO provides the infrastructure and support for market standards, industry standards development and/or market adoption of emerging technologies. Our offerings like technology association management, not for profit alliance management, member satisfaction, IT industry standards, are diverse, comprehensive, and customizable to address all your program’s needs. 


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