Air Force Academy IT in dire need of upgrades, superintendent says

Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the Air Force Academy’s superintendent, told Congress the academy’s accreditation was threatened by legacy IT.

shutterstock ID: 17681932  United States Air Force Academy Chapel with aircraft sculpture in the foreground J By John Hoffman
 

The chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. (Image credit: John Hoffman/Shutterstock.com)

The Air Force Academy's IT infrastructure is in such dire need of modernization that its accreditation could be in jeopardy. That's what Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the academy's superintendent stressed during a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on March 2.

"Our IT is woefully behind where we need to be a provider of cyber excellence," Clark testified. "Right now we have needs for immediate funding for this year, unfunded requirements, plus we need money into the [Program Objective Memorandum] because our network is not the same network the broader Air Force uses. We are on a '.edu' whereas the Air Force is on a '.mil.'"

Using ".edu" infrastructure allows the academy to collaborate with other academic institutions and research entities, he said, but the academy's tech resources are allocated separately and don't get the same attention as the military services' broader enterprise needs.

"We don't fall under the normal IT funding that the rest of the Air Force comes under. So that funding that we need, not only now but into the out years, is vital for us. In fact, it threatens our accreditation," Clark said.

The Air Force Academy's aging IT was also brought up in an early version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act under items of special interest, noting the need for updates to networks that were delayed due to the pandemic's social distancing and "unique requirements not supported by existing Air Force IT enterprise services."

Moreover, Clark testified Tuesday that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed weaknesses in its IT systems "as we've gone to more virtual classes" and symposiums.

That need for better IT infrastructure goes to the Air and Space Force's preparation for Joint All Domain Command and Control -- a concept that would allow multiple systems and platforms to communicate across the military services.

"Every guardian has to speak digital as their language" and "understand the cyber domain if we're going to be able to execute [JADC2]," Clark said, adding that the academy is expected to break ground this month on a new cyber innovation center to would bring in expertise and collaboration from industry and Air and Space Force partners so cadets can learn about real world needs and problems.

But that overall mission of cyber and tech education rests on IT modernization funding, he stressed: "We have great needs, I think, from a fiscal standpoint to allow us to meet our aspirations to be that school of cyber excellence."

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