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Moving toward an Information Age Air Force

By Lt. Gen. Bill Bender, CIO, United States Air Force


Lt. Gen. Bill Bender, CIO, United States Air Force

Information has played an essential part in military operations throughout the history of our Nation’s defense. Initially, battlefield command and control was largely a logistics problem where messages were carried from the front lines to headquarters by runners or couriers on horseback. The Civil War marked a technological leap with the advent of the telegraph, as a sitting President could receive battlefield updates from distant Union Army commanders within hours instead of days. Radio communications enabled the dissemination of information that was not tethered to physical infrastructure, bringing about a focus on operational agility in warfighting campaigns. The more recent introduction of the Internet further emphasized the importance of data-rich environments as the superior means to synchronize global forces towards common, decentralized objectives. With recognition of how the use of information for warfighting has evolved, we must envision the next benchmark and set into motion the ways and means of realizing that future: warfighting in the Information Age.

As the Air Force’s Chief Information Officer, I’m responsible for leading what is nothing short of a transformation imperative. Partnership, collaboration, and teamwork on scales previously unrealized will be required. Technological and programmatic agility will be the keys to keeping the US Air Force the most lethal and effective fighting force in the Information Age.With agile cloud computing as our future trademark, the Department’s approach to acquiring technologies must fundamentally change today to support the needs of tomorrow. With this in mind, allow me to share a perspective on how information will be critical in future wars and offer my thoughts on what the Air Force must do today to establish a flight path that, flown successfully, achieves “information dominance”.

“The cloud must be resilient and self-healing to ensure availability in a contested or electronically challenging environment”

Information Age warfighting requires an agile, federated cloud that extends to the tactical edge supporting data and information availability for everything, not just everyone. It must exist with a predictable, reliable fluidity that enables decentralized execution of full-spectrum, multi-domain operations that are commanded and controlled from often globally distant locations, Service-agnostic. The cloud must be resilient and self-healing to ensure availability in a contested or electronically challenging environment. Thus, it will need to take advantage of connectivity provided through traditional electromagnetic spectrum means and nascent software defined networks.

People and military objects, all which will interactas something like an Internet of Military Things, need to be able to seamlessly enter and exit the cloud by design without disruption to the mission or information environment. All military objects must be able to freely exchange data with or without traditional network connectivity. To this end, alternative means of data exchange will be leveraged to overcome the limitations and vulnerabilities of present-day link-node, send-receive constructs.

The question isn’t whether we need an agile cloud, but how fast we can get there.  Since 9/11, the Air Force has ushered in many new technologies geared toward enhanced global vigilance needed to confront a global terrorist threat.  Mostly for the sake of operational expediency, a lack of an enterprise approach ensued, and the result has been the myriad of significant IT integration challenges we face today. The proliferation of IT infrastructure, sensors and systems aboard weapons platforms proceeds unabated. The means we have built to find, fix, and finish enemies half a world away has resulted in a complex web of stove-piped capabilities that, ironically, complicates our ability to compete against a future near-peer in an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment.We must quickly and smartly build the agile cloud today.

If the agile cloud is to becomeour future trademark, agile acquisition will be how we take it from concept to capability. The center of gravity must shift away from large defense system integrators to lean and nimble entrepreneurs and startups. We must leverage our Nation’s greatest advantage, the innovative spirit and creative minds of our scientists and engineers, wherever they live or are employed.Our Department must make it easy for individuals and small companies to deliver needed solutions to the warfighter on an as-needed basis. An enterprise architecture needs to exist that can easily on board new technology without a burdensome integration effort. Acquisition and procurement must adapt to keep pace with the speed oftechnological change. To remain relevant, the Air Force must forge into the Information Age of warfighting with a sense of urgency.

America’s adversaries operate unconstrained in cyberspace and are both sinister andbrilliant in leveraging the domain to their own advantage. The U.S. Air Force must dominate the future information environment to dissuade, deter and defeat those who would do our Nation harm.  As the Air Force CIO, an Information Age Air Force is my only measure of success.

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