Stove-Piped Systems Alive and Well in the Military

By Stew Magnuson
BALTIMORE — There was a time at the annual Milcom conference when "network-centric operations" was the buzzword and all that anyone talked about. Panels were devoted to the ultimate goal of making military communication systems work seamlessly together, pushing data collected by myriad sensors to whomever needed it.
Organizations such as the National Defense Industrial Association devoted entire conferences to the topic. Generals in keynote speeches declared that "the days of stove-piped systems are over."
Two days into the military communications industry's largest conference of the year, and not one speaker or panelist has uttered the word "network-centric."
Does this mean that the military has reached nirvana, and all non-interoperable systems have been eliminated? Hardly. In fact, new stovepipes are being added all the time, according to Lt. Gen. Charles R. Davis, commander of the Air Force's electronic systems center.
"Most of the programs I deal with today have gone along the path of building their own complete infrastructure, their own complete hardware and software protocols, to be able to fit on the network because they are being held responsible for their performance in program A or program B," he said.
Through his career, Davis has witnessed the practice of developing entire new networks and attempting to integrate them with existing networks. As the former program executive officer for the F-35 program in 2005 he saw how the aircraft could not do what it was capable of doing without connecting to the networks of all three services and eight partner countries.
"It was just an immense nightmare" to make the data flow within all these disparate networks," he said. A Defense Department mandate to connect the F-22 and the F-35 has not occurred because the "half-billion" dollars needed are not available, he said.
One of the problems is that every program has its own funding stream. Joint Tactical Radio System terminal programs aren't coordinated with the communication satellite programs, so there are delays in getting the technology to war fighters, he said. The defeatist strategy is to create gap-filler solutions, or patches, so they can link "because that is the only way the system knows how to react," Davis said.
Military networks should be considered a weapon system, he asserted. The military cannot conduct a single military operation without them, he said.
The new buzzword at Milcom this year is "cybersecurity." Every new application must come with its own set of security features. Each is a potential portal for an adversary to intrude into the network, Davis said. Meanwhile, senior military officers ask why something as simple as adding a pay system to the network becomes so complicated.
Within the Air Force, the authorities for who is in charge of operating networks are not well spelled out and not always enforced, he said.
The current acquisition system is not nimble enough to take on these challenges. No one will be able to rapidly come up with the means to defend networks or conduct offensive operations without flexibility in the budget, he said.

Topics: Infotech, Netcentricity, Open Technology

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