Air Force urged to move to social-media style communications

As the Air Force prepares to bring in its next generation of airmen, the service faces a new kind of service member: the digital native raised in a culture of broadcasting information of all kinds. That gulf between the new generation and the digital-immigrant Air Force makeup until now must be reconciled in order to operate in today’s theater, according to a top Air Force official speaking Oct. 21 at an AFCEA event in Vienna, Va.

It’s a matter of moving from traditional, one-on-one telephone-style contact to the mass approach of today’s social media.

“Marconi to Google – that’s Ma Bell to Facebook. The Marconi is a radio, and it was a great way to communicate one human at a time. But you can step on each other or delay the information exchange requirement maneuvers,” said Brig. Gen. Bob Ranck, director of warfighter systems integration, Air Force CIO/A6. “If you’re moving to Google or Facebook then you’re sharing with a broader audience with a greater information exchange requirement.”

Like exchanges on Facebook – but with decidedly greater implications – communications between airmen and aircraft need to be broadcast and then distributed as necessary by those receiving the info.

“Unfortunately we design individual aircraft to communicate with individual aircraft and individual populations. It’s a Ma Bell mentality. It’s not a network…it’s only one information exchange requirement at a time,” Ranck said. “We ought to be designing a network so that information is not passed from one person to another, but published and subscribed. When you publish and subscribe the information, the guys that need it can pick it up and can do the individual call if they need to.”

Ranck said that within his directorate, they are working to overcome the cultural barriers between the two generations – and the traditional Air Force methods of communications built on archaic requirements and realities.

“Fast forward to the director of warfighting systems integration [office], with one foot in the obsolete world, and one foot in the IT world, recognizing that I’m a digital immigrant and the people I’m building requirements for…are people who expect more than second-generation communications in a fifth-generation aircraft,” he said.

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Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 RayW

Am I missing something? This article implies that the so called "social media" is the requirement to make information available to all. I thought that was the premise of the internet thirty plus years ago? Unfortunately, in the name of security, many things are locked down with expiring passwords and obtuse links. The reasons for this are the friendly folks in Bulgaria (are they still active?), China, N. Korea, the Middle East (both 'good' and 'bad' guys), Russia, and even domestic folks who want to find out what (insert favorite organizations/companies) are doing for gain or pain.

Now this author seems to think that all the pain we have can be avoided by using broadcast 'social' media (even though they seem to equate the existing subscription systems to point to point, yet talk about subscribing anyway). Heck, even the old "point to point" system he disparages is vulnerable to espionage. If that is still true, then how much more data will someone be able to gather with a broadcast system?

And personally, I do not have the time to filter what I get now, having to filter a true broadcast with the chaotic postings that many 'younger' folks seem to think is 'cool' (even my 19 year old says there is a lot of garbage, even in focused 'friends' groups) seems to be requiring more time, and I refuse to be tethered 24/7 like many fast track folks seem to expect, I have other interests, hobbies, and tasks that help keep my sanity.

This is my opinion, based upon too many years of using the net and seeing issues and not that of my boss, my boss's bosss, the pentagon, congress, or the prez.

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