DOD stages Year 2000 war game

The Pentagon ran its first Year 2000 "war game" Friday to test how Defense Department officials reacted to mock computer snafus caused by the millennium bug.

The results, which mark a shift in DOD's Year 2000 strategy from fixing computers to planning for computer failures if they occur, were not immediately available. The exercise tested the ability of midlevel managers in DOD functional business areas to deal with the Year 2000 issue, putting DOD's Year 2000 contingency plans to the test.

"We've moved [responsibility] for Y2K from the techno-geeks to operational commands,'' said Marv Langston, DOD's deputy chief information officer.

The exercise, conducted at the Mitre Corp. facility in Vienna, Va., marked the start of a series of Year 2000 war games that will culminate with what Langston described as a "Cabinet-level exercise" involving Secretary of Defense William Cohen, White House Year 2000 czar John Koskinen, other senior government officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Pentagon has modeled the Year 2000 "table top" exercises after similar war-game exercises in which key players follow a loosely scripted battle and attempt to cope with "enemy" moves by exercise coordinators. Enemy attacks were not part of the Year 2000 exercise. Rather, participants dealt with pernicious and hidden bugs in seemingly benign systems— bugs that could cripple U.S. forces as badly as a missile attack, said Langston, who calls Year 2000 issues "my No. 1 priority."

Nancy Peters, Year 2000 vice president at CACI Inc., said the exercises should help DOD get a better grasp of the totality of the Year 2000 problem and how to manage it. "This is an end-to-end problem," Peters said, adding that DOD "does not know where the string ends." The exercises, she said, should help the Pentagon follow that string to its end and then figure out how to manage the consequences.

Langston, speaking at a meeting of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management Nov. 19, said the Pentagon will use the exercises to "walk [senior officials] through scenarios to see what will happen if DOD cannot function" due to a date-code meltdown in systems that control electricity, transportation and water supplies.

These Year 2000 exercises differ from Year 2000 tests of key DOD information and command and control systems, Langston said. The systems tests are designed to uncover technical glitches caused by date code in mission-critical systems, while the exercises are designed to see how commanders and top leadership can handle situations that result from a break-down in not only DOD systems but also those in the critical infrastructure.

Zach Selden, an analyst who follows Year 2000 for Business Executives for National Security, viewed the Pentagon's contingency planning exercises as a positive step, albeit late.

"The exercises show that they have moved from risk management to consequence management, even if they should have started doing this six months ago," he said. "The exercises are a real change. It shows they are now getting ready to deal with problems instead of trying to fix systems.''

The next exercise, scheduled for January, will put DOD policy-makers to the test, while an exercise planned for late February or early March will involve DOD's high command, including Cohen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This will be followed by the final "Cabinet-level" exercise in May or June, Langston said.

The Pentagon needs to conduct these war games, Langston said, because it depends on outside sources and suppliers. DOD also is concerned about the impact that the collapse of foreign information systems could have on readiness.

Olga Grkavac, senior vice president with the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division, said the exercises will provide Pentagon planners "with valuable information on their exposure, especially in the reliance on [outside] critical infrastructures."


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