Air Force must clean up its networks, general says

Multiple networks threaten to slow down critical functions

The Air Force views its network as a weapons system, but there are flaws in the system that must be worked out before it grinds to a halt, a top Air Force official warned.

The Air Force relies on its networks to manage everything from ordering supplies to planning strike missions, and its necessity makes it both a vital part of the service and a potential weakness, said Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, commander of the Air Force Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. “You can’t conduct a single operation without it [the network], you cannot conduct a single business transaction without it,” he said at the MILCOM conference in Baltimore, Md., on Nov. 9.

Meanwhile, each time another system is added, the network is harder to defend because of the strain caused by allocating resources to defend the addition, he said.

The network was first intended as a relatively straightforward way to connect systems and platforms. But as time passed, layers were added. The network evolved from a point-to-point system to what is envisioned as a seamless system. But in reality, the seamless network is really a collection of networks, Davis said.

This complexity has made it more difficult to deliver enterprise resource applications, and the challenge lies in matching security requirements with the ability to quickly deliver services, he added. This is necessary because this disconnect affects how IT services are acquired. “Nobody knows how to build an acquisition system that can keep up with this,” he said.

If nothing is done, critical missions, such as nuclear command and control, could become nearly impossible to manage and run, Davis said.

To fix this, the service is taking steps to centralize how programs are acquired and managed, Davis said. Under a centralized system, individual commands would not be allowed to set up their own infrastructure on the network. The service is finishing a strategic baseline for its network, which will allow it to centrally manage technical aspects of running and testing assets, he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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