The Department of Defense (DoD) is planning on moving its network addresses into a bigger house, so to speak, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that the department needs to take more preparatory steps to plan before the move.

Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) was developed in the 1980s to give sites a numerical address. IPv4 antedates Domain Name Service (DNS), which gives the numbers, the names internet users type today. An IPv4 address is comprised of four numbers, each ranging from 0 to 255, which are separated by periods. The IPv4 system is limited compared to its successor, Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), and DoD has begun efforts to transition its networks and systems from IPv4 to IPv6.

“In comparison to IPv4’s approximately 4.3 billion addresses, IPv6 provides approximately 340 undecillion (i.e., 340 trillion, trillion, trillion or 3.4 × 1038) possible unique addresses, which is enough to assign many trillions of addresses to every person on Earth,” the GAO’s report said. “IPv6 is expected to provide improved, more efficient information technology (IT) services, mobility, and security.”

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Congress mandated the GAO to review the department’s use of IPv4 and its transition to IPv6. The report states that technology firms, major corporations, and foreign governments have been implementing the protocol, and that DoD has made at least two prior attempts to transition to IPv6. One of DoD’s attempts, the report states, dates to approximately 2003.


The current initiative to transition to IPv6, which began in 2017, has not met the department’s own schedule, according to GAO’s report. In February 2019, DoD released its own IPv6 planning and implementation guidance, listing 35 required transition activities, 18 of which were due to be completed before March 2020. As of March, six of the 18 activities were completed.

GAO made three recommendations to the department:

  • “develop an inventory of IP compliant devices,
  • an estimate of the IPv6 transition costs,
  • and an analysis of IPv6 transition risk.”

The department agreed with the recommendations to develop a cost estimate and risk analysis, but disagreed with the recommendation to develop an inventory of IP compliant devices. In the report, GAO said that its recommendation for an inventory is warranted.

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Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.