New standards to tame how the Air Force develops IT systems

Thursday - 9/27/2012, 3:49pm EDT

Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, CIO, Air Force

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The Air Force is centralizing control over how its commands develop and implement technology.

Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, the service's chief information officer and chief of information dominance, said the goal of the three standards is to stop the proliferation of stovepipe systems and provide networks and applications that warfighters and airmen can depend on.

"We've been working on a technical baseline, an implementation baseline and an objective baseline," he said. "It's not as far along as I want it to be right now. We are working on it hard. Once that's completed, and we are doing these things in parallel, it will be delivered to the acquirers, to those functionals who have to operate those systems and they will know the environment in which their capabilities will exist."

He said these baselines are more than just standards, but the actual capabilities the commands will use.

"We are trying to centralize the acquisition and delivery of those capabilities," Basla said. "It's not done through my office. Our office is responsible for policies, standards and directives. It will be done through the chief lead integrator for cyberspace over at Air Force Space Command, the acquisition community, as well as partnering with those functions."

The path toward enterprise services

The technical baseline is developing the standards, and it's about 50 percent done. The implementation baseline is the environment a user can expect to operate.

"That work includes looking at opportunities outside the Air Force. We don't need to own and operate everything," Basla said. "I'm talking to my very good friend Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins over at DISA. DISA has capabilities that we are looking at leveraging. We're looking at industry. Industry has capabilities that we are interested in possibly leveraging. They will inform our standards and inform our acquisition community as the best way forward."

The capabilities Basla is referring to is the Defense Information Systems Agency's enterprise email and collaboration services. The Army, Transportation Command, the Joint Staff and others are buying email-as-a-service from DISA.

DoD CIO Teri Takai said in March the Air Force would be the next major service to transition to DISA's email in the cloud.

Basla said before deciding whether to move to DISA, the Air Force must complete its AFNet migration. AFNet includes the standard architecture and hardware requirements. It also addresses standards tactics, techniques and procedures and the training of airmen to operate the network.

"AFNet migration takes the multiple force that we have that has stood up over the years from the different major commands and creates a single force for the Air Force," he said. "We are well down that road. We have 167,000 users migrated so far and we have consolidated our network security operations center into two locations."

Basla said over the next 18 to 24 months the other major commands need to migrate to AFNet, including the Air National Guard, which means more than 300,000 military, civilian and reserve workers still need to move to AFNet.

"It was always our plan to align the Air Force as a potential migration, or on-ramp, to this enterprise email DISA provides right now," he said. "The question is, and I've had this conversation with the commander of Air Force Space Command, what is the logical time for the Air Force to move? Do we proceed and complete the AFNet migration or do we do a technical assessment now and see there may be an on-ramp that could happen earlier than that? A third option is that we continue to proceed the way we are going and remain on AFNet under Air Force operations and control. I don't know how that's going to work out, but we will have a technical team assess that very quickly."

Scrubbing to find IT savings

The technical team includes military and civilian network folks, and Basla said he will match them up with the DISA team to help go through the assessment.

Basla would like a decision from that team in the next 30 days.

Part of this effort to standardize and centralize is to deal with the dramatic cuts to the Air Force's IT budget.

Basla said in fiscal 2012 budget the IT budget dropped by $1.2 billion and in 2013 it's expected to drop by another $1.1 billion.

"Those are part of the reductions that had to be made in my portfolio because of the budget reductions the Air Force and department took over all," he said. "Unfortunately, what wasn't done was a very stringent scrub to validate those reductions and find where exactly the best place is to take them from. That's part of my job right now and the team I'm working with. We've laid in the cuts, those dollars are gone, but now we have to make sure where we are taking them will not break our IT capabilities. In fact, the last Chief of Staff of the Air Force told me he has a concern about that and the current chief as well."

Basla said they are starting with the business systems to find out where redundancies exist, and then move to the warfighting and infrastructure systems to help meet those reduction goals.

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