Air Force wires weapons to Web

The Air Force is requiring that all command and control systems and weapon systems be wired to the World Wide Web.

John Gilligan, an Air Force deputy chief information officer, said that the Web-enablement policy offers several benefits, including universal access to data, a reduction in personnel and lower costs.

"The intent is really to establish a formal way that we will Web-enable, we will use XML [Extensible Markup Language], and we will use [Internet Protocol]," Gilligan said. By using IP to connect the data links, he said the Air Force will be able to use commercially available capabilities.

Air Force Secretary James Roche and Gen. Michael Ryan, outgoing Air Force chief of staff, signed the policy July 9. It places Air Force commanders in charge of information technology and national security systems development and states that the Air Force CIO will review migration plans as part of the budget process in order to develop a consistent and cost-effective IT investment strategy.

"Now, this won't happen overnight, but it will establish a vision of where we want to go," Gilligan said, "and it starts to allow us to deliver on what I was describing as our weapons platforms becoming nodes on the network."

According to the document, "Information technology systems and national security systems must be interoperable within the Air Force, among the joint services and other communities of interest. Currently, the wide variety of standards limit information support to our warfighters, decision support and command and control processes across the Air Force.

"To move ahead, we must integrate Web-enabling technologies and standards to govern information interchange and promote greater interoperability," the document states.

The memo calls specifically for the use of four technologies: IP, XML, URLs and Web browsers.

Currently, most weapon and command and control systems use a plethora of protocols and are not always able to share data. That means the data has to be manually transferred from one system to another, and sometimes it cannot even be accessed or found. XML is a "far superior data exchange protocol," Gilligan said.

"The first benefit would be the ability to have universal access to information. We have found that just by providing a link to systems, it opens up information universally," Gilligan said.

Lt. Gen. John Woodward, the other Air Force deputy CIO and the service's director of communications and information, estimates that operational power is the biggest benefit from data exchange. The service is "going to have a capability to put more information together from assorted sources and have that much speedier and better decision- making capabilities," he said.

Woodward acknowledged that weapon systems wired to the Web will be even more vulnerable to information warfare attacks and said that information will have to be assured and additional vulnerabilities will simply have "to be dealt with."

He and Gilligan said that universal access will offer the service benefits, such as eliminating the need for Air Force personnel to manually translate data from one system to another, allowing greater use of commercial technologies, saving money and making combat operations smoother and quicker. Woodward did not know how much it would cost to Web-enable all weapon platforms and command and control systems.

Although industry members applaud the Air Force's move, Pete Hayes, industry vice president for Microsoft Corp.'s government division, cautioned that "it takes a lot of work to Web-enable something.

"There's a lot of talk about Web- enabling systems and bringing all this rich data to the end user," he said, adding that the service has to "take a very deep architectural look at the solution you're trying to build, make sure you build it correctly and securely and that you have a great foundation to build it on."

Rules for the Web

The Air Force mandate to Web-enable all information technology and national security systems does allow for some exemptions. Certain systems "will continue to use special protocols, message formats and presentation methods to satisfy unique military requirements or to support legacy technologies. These special systems should use translation mechanisms (e.g., gateways) to enable information exchange across the standards-based IT infrastructure," the policy states.

The feasibility of legacy systems migration is often dependent on diverse political, programmatic and economic considerations. "Consequently, valid business-case substantiated analyses in support of exemption waivers against any Web-enabling standards dictates in this policy memo will be considered." n


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