DOD readies contingency plan for aging Autodin

The Defense Department has begun to develop contingency plans to keep portions of the aging Autodin messaging system operational past its scheduled shutoff date at the end of 1999. Although its planned replacement, the half-billion-dollar Defense Message System program, was originally intended to take over all the mission-critical traffic, a number of technical issues have raised concerns about the current ability of the DMS system to handle high-priority messages.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Information Systems Agency, which manages DMS, are known to be concerned about using DMS to protect high-priority access to systems such as those used to control nuclear weapons.

Developed in the 1960s, Autodin passes message traffic through a global network of highly secure but antiquated mainframes that use tape reels for data storage. DISA planned to replace this manpower-intensive and costly system with a DMS client/server architecture of PC clients running commercial versions of products such as Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange and Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes. Integration, testing and fielding problems have plagued the program since shortly after Lockheed Martin Federal Systems won the contract to serve up to 2 million DOD users.

In a prepared statement issued today, Pentagon officials acknowledged that contingency plans are being prepared and that they may require some portions of Autodin to remain in operation. DOD also said it still believes it can meet its aggressive schedule. DMS is currently running approximately two years behind schedule, industry sources said.

Knowledgeable sources have told FCW that Autodin will continue to support nuclear command and control systems that pass traffic known as Emergency Action Messages and other types of top-secret traffic, such as operational messages from the National Command Authority to forces engaged in peacekeeping operations or deployments of sizable combat forces to world trouble spots, such as the recent air and naval buildup near Iraq.

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