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The Air Force has a plan to #fixourcomputers and more

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 20, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)
September 19, 2022

The Air Force’s chief information officer wants to do less spot-fixing of IT problems that pop up, and more to make networks, devices, and tools more reliable. And she knows that’s no easy lift.

“We have the best pilots in the world, we have incredible air platforms. But we haven’t gotten to the level of discipline in the way that we provision services to say ‘the network will be up 99.9999% of the time and you know it will be there and you know that this is who you’re holding accountable for that’,” Lauren Knausenberger, the Air Force’s chief information officer, said last month during an interview with Defense One sister GovExec TV, at the Department of the Air Force IT and Cyberpower conference.

Over the next half-decade, the Air Force wants to focus on core technologies, like cloud computing, that will comprise the “digital backbone” that the Air and Space Forces need “to improve both user experience [and] warfighter effectiveness,” according to the CIO’s recently released interim information-technology strategy.

“Rolling out those core services, and just executing the heck out of them is huge. Making sure that our data and AI strategy is pushed out in a way that we can really leverage is huge—and getting everyone to do this together,” Knausenberger said. “Now, can we do it all at once? That comes down to accountability for each line of effort. And we can’t have one team do the whole thing and be successful.”

The strategy outlines six lines of effort:

  • accelerating adoption of cloud computing in the office and on the battlefield;
  • cybersecurity;
  • workforce;
  • better IT portfolio management to track spending and reduce redundancy;
  • excelling at mission-focused IT services (including hardware and software); and
  • data and artificial intelligence, such as increased automation and machine learning.

Cyber needs include things like identity and access management, zero trust, cyber defense and adopting a more threat-based model, she said. And the workforce component involves rethinking incentives, ensuring digital fluency across the services, and making sure cyber and IT workers “can learn everything that they need to learn to stay on top of their mission, as well as on top of whatever is happening in the digital world, even before the Department of Defense writ large is talking about it.”

The document also calls for a Joint Workforce Strategy focused on emerging technologies and talent retention.

All of this follows years of complaints from airmen (and the Defense Department writ large) about how misconfigured or obsolete computers and networks make simple tasks like loading email a struggle. These cries have recently gone viral.

Knausenberger vowed to address the problems. She previously talked about building out “ubiquitous connectivity” to handle the jump in network traffic that followed the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Air Force recently awarded a nearly $6 billion enterprise IT contract for basic help-desk services. Plus, the branch has stressed growing its software factories, and improving digital collaboration and data sharing with its Cloud One and Platform One programs.

The strategy, which spans fiscal years 2023 through 2028 and will guide investments and personnel focus areas, is intended to shape a complementary and more detailed implementation plan.

Rich Martin, the CIO for LinQuest, a space systems tech company, said successful implementation will hinge on good organizational communication.

“It is critical in cases like these that the strategy is discussed not only at the leadership level, but throughout the entire organization. I suspect most individuals within the organization already have full plates and a shift in direction can be overwhelming, so it’s essential to communicate effectively within the organization and with outside stakeholders as well,” Martin said via email. “The key is ensuring the entire organization is marching in the same direction toward these goals, and that requires outstanding communication, oversight and patience.”

The strategy also suggests taking inventory of existing IT policies “to address known gaps of IT management, to include strategic revision of policies, regulations and guidance.”

“What are the specific objectives and the specific tasks that we need to undertake to ensure that we have global ubiquitous connectivity, that we have the compute that we need at the edge to be able to leverage machine-driven insights, that anywhere in the world we can run our mission, we can get data from anywhere to anywhere,” Knausenberger said.


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