Cold War bunker made Y2K post

Montgomery, Ala. - In a facility once used to track Soviet bombers and missiles at the height of the Cold War, the Air Force last week opened a command post to monitor and engage the last threat of the millennium: Year 2000 date-code bugs that could infect the service's worldwide computer systems and networks.

The Air Force has set up its so-called Fusion Center in a refurbished space on the top floor of a windowless, hardened bunker annex at Maxwell Air Force Base here. The building once housed room-size computers that powered the Air Force's early warning system - called the Semi-Automated Ground Environment - that could warn the United States of incoming Soviet nuclear missiles. Now filled with state-of-the-art computer terminals and monitors, the Fusion Center "will be building the big picture of Y2K" for top commanders on New Year's Eve, providing them with a near-real-time status of Air Force computer systems worldwide, said Brig. Gen. Gary Ambrose, director of the Air Force Year 2000 Program.

Ambrose said the center is "truly pivotal to the Air Force Y2K effort...connected to every Air Force command post and [computer and network] help desk worldwide.''

The Fusion Center is operated by the Air Force's Standard Systems Group, which developed and maintains code for a wide range of Air Force software systems. Experts from each of those systems staff help desks at the Fusion Center.

Any of the Fusion Center's 40 staff members on around-the-clock shifts can drill down on the live network picture, right down to the main router on a base, according to Col. Robert Glitz, chief of the Customer Support Division at the SSG.

Glitz said that if the Fusion Center staff detects a serious Year 2000 problem at a particular base, staff members working with the Air Force Network Operations Center, located next door at the Gunter Annex to Maxwell AFB, can isolate that base from the rest of the network. "We own the af.mil and af.smil [domains]," Glitz said. If necessary, the Fusion Center, working with the AFNOC, can "shut down af.mil,'' Glitz said.

Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, the closest Air Force base to the international date line, will serve as the Air Force's Year 2000 "canary," Glitz said. The base will send back any reports on systems failures there, providing an early warning to fix or close down systems on bases located hours from the date line, Glitz said.

The Fusion Center - a facility unique to the Air Force among the services - will feed its data to the Year 2000 cell headed by Ambrose in the Air Force Operations Center at the Pentagon. That operations center in turn will relay Air Force Year 2000 data to the National Military Command Center, which will feed the information to the Pentagon's central Year 2000 Decision Support Activity.

That office will coordinate the federal response to Year 2000 problems with the Information Coordination Center, which is managed by the General Services Administration.

The Fusion Center also will be the central reporting facility for networks and systems developed and managed by other commands, including key aircraft and command and control systems. The center will serve as a worldwide super-help and monitoring desk by transferring calls to the right military or commercial software expert.

Senior Master Sgt. Kip Jacobs, who supervised the installation of information systems in the Fusion Center, said it can support up to almost 150 staffers at one time, with incoming calls carried on four T-1 (1.5 megabits/sec) lines. The 720-drop local-area network handles data, voice and fax calls, with all phone traffic treated as just another part of the bit stream.

The Fusion Center's window to the rest of the Air Force - as well as to the other military services and top Pentagon commanders - will be a secure World Wide Web site operating in the .smil domain, Glitz said. He declined for security reasons to give its address.

"Some things can be expected to fail,'' Ambrose said, "but we need to continue with our mission,'' with the Fusion Center serving as a "key point of vigilance" to ensure that bad code does not impair Air Force systems and its mission.

The Fusion Center will continue to operate at full strength well into the new year, Glitz said, with staffers ready to monitor other possibly troublesome 2000 dates such as Feb. 29. After the millennium problem dissipates, Ambrose said the Air Force likely will turn the Fusion Center into a key facility for servicewide information assurance efforts.

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