IT as vital to military as ships, tanks

SALT LAKE CITY— Top Defense Department information officers believe that information technology and computerized weapons will determine winners and losers of future battles, making software as much a component of national defense as the newest ship, fighter or tank.

Information officers gathered here last week at the 10th Software Technology Conference, DOD's premier software conference, said the Pentagon needs to improve factors ranging from policy to acquisition processes to ensure that software can support high-tech weapons and forces.

"The U.S. military is irrevocably committed to a technology strategy," said Lt. Gen. William Campbell, the Army's director of information systems for command, control, communications and computers. "Information dominance is not possible without the best software. We're going for a qualitative difference [in forces], not quantitative.... The U.S. now only has the eighth or 10th largest Army in the world."

The Pentagon, Campbell said, has bet that advanced technology and embedded software will provide U.S. forces with the system that will tilt the balance in any future conflict. "It makes us responsible more than ever for the national defense," he said. "Our challenge is to provide systems that are far superior to the enemy's.''

Rear Adm. John Gauss, commander of the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, said, "Information systems and networks will be to 21st century warfighting what nuclear weapons and propulsion systems were to the 20th century warfighter.''

An IT emphasis means DOD needs to bring order and discipline to software acquisition, development and maintenance or face serious consequences in future wars, said Patricia Sanders, DOD director of test system engineering and evaluation. Sanders, the STC keynote speaker, agreed that software has become key to new military policies and tactics that "exploit the potential of information technology.... [The concept] of full spectrum dominance is predicated on knowledge sharing."

Despite the increasing importance of IT and software-based platforms— electronic systems account for one-third of the cost of new, high-performance aircraft, Sanders estimated— DOD has a poor software track record, she said. A DOD study of major software development projects showed that the projects' completion dates slipped an average of 36 months, Sanders said, with "one-third canceled before completion."

DOD software developers need to give up the attitude that "software is easy to change'' and instead focus on the fact that "software defects are the most expensive of all defects to fix,'' Sanders said.

While the press and top Pentagon managers have focused on hacker attacks against DOD networks as examples of serious information warfare threats, Sanders believes a greater threat lies within DOD itself. U.S. military forces cannot perform IT-enhanced missions "unless the software works," Sanders said. "Software that does not work is self-inflicted information warfare.''

Gauss said he believed software policy changes within the Pentagon and advances in technology will help DOD overcome its systems development mistakes of the past. "In the 1980s, a lot of our development was dictated by policy and [military-specific] standards that inhibited good engineering.... But now we have new policies, processes and tools [that will result in] disciplined engineering," he said.

Campbell agreed that systems development has changed for the better within DOD now that the department has given up building grand systems that have "requirements etched in stone'' in favor of building systems incrementally, using a process that allows DOD to adopt new technology quickly.

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