Q&A: Upcoming defense IT challenges

The size and special requirements of the Defense Department make it difficult for the military services to adopt emerging technology quickly, said Jim Hendler, a computer science professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a former chief scientist for information systems at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The next phase of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet provides an opportunity for the Navy to examine how it develops and adopts new technologies, he said.

FCW: As military customers get closer to their goal of network-centric warfare, is it realistic to expect the services to do much of this information technology work on their own?

Hendler: Unfortunately, the enemies we find ourselves fighting today are able to take risks that we would find untenable, and thus they can make a faster use of new technologies than we can. The smart young seamen and women in today’s Navy are very technology-savvy, and can throw things together very quickly, making our capabilities match those of our foe’s, but only if we could move to their risk level. If network-centric warfare is ever going to become a reality, we need a new way of building military IT systems that combines the speed and innovation that can be done in-house with the quality control provided by requirements-based acquisitions.

FCW: Another goal of NMCI was to make Navywide technology interoperable. Are the military services doing a good job in achieving interoperability?

Hendler: Currently, within-service interoperability is becoming better, but it still is a major hurdle, and between services, interoperability is still mainly a dream. This isn’t really a surprise, because within-enterprise interoperability remains a major challenge in the business world as well, and a low-cost solution to business-to-business interoperability is still one of IT technology’s holy grails. That said, there are a number of emerging technologies that the military still needs to find a way to explore and is hamstrung in part because in-house research has many of the same obstacles as in-house development. Again, new thinking is needed as to how to combine the best of university research, business technologies and in-house military customization

FCW: How big a role do you expect Web applications and Web 2.0 apps to play in future defense IT systems?

Hendler: Future defense IT systems will be driven more and more to Web-based applications as the commercial world moves more and more to cloud computing and Web-based application program interfaces. Web 2.0 is simply one step in this inevitable evolution, and the military will either use it officially, in the systems deployed around the world, or unofficially, as military people solve their real problems outside the systems of record. As new technologies come along, the DOD must bring them on board, as the users understand the power of collaboration faster than the requirements can keep up. Web 2.0, the emerging Semantic Web — Web 3.0 as it is coming to be known— and future generations of Web technology as the commercial world evolves toward a Web OS are inevitable, and the DOD must be tracking these systems and finding new ways to exploit them sooner. After all, our enemies are doing exactly that.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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