Air Force piloting secure portal

The Air Force is in the initial phases of developing a secure portal that will provide air operations centers with access to the data they need to make critical warfighting decisions — information that is currently maintained in various disparate systems.

The system will provide the air operations centers with point-and-click access to an integrated set of secure information and will run on the Defense Department's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET).

Lt. Gen. Leslie Kenne, deputy chief of staff for warfighting integration at Air Force headquarters, said the Air Force SIPRNET Portal is being tested as a way to eliminate the "disconnect between the force and the unit level" and will enable users to simply access the information they want and need to conduct air operations.

Military personnel use SIPRNET for accessing classified applications and databases and for secure messaging accounts.

"The purpose of the...project is to provide the Air Force user a single point of access for 90 percent of the information needed to perform their operational role," said Maj. Gen. Robert Behler, commander of Air Force Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Center (AFC2ISRC) at Langley Air Force Base, Va., where the portal is being developed.

The portal has not been funded as an operational system. The proof-of-concept demonstration was only launched in early September and presented to Kenne, Air Force chief information officer John Gilligan and other service leaders in mid-October, Behler said.

However, the rapid pace of the initial portal demonstration prototype has already paid dividends. "Development and integration prior to full-scale implementation allows us to wring out written requirements and document in a visual medium," he said.

There is still a long way to go before the system can become fully operational, Kenne said last month at Air Force Information Technology Day, sponsored by the Northern Virginia chapter of AFCEA International.

"We can only make good use [of the portal] with a good database plan, database management and databases that are tagged so they can be accessed easily.... None of those three things exist today," Kenne said. "A policy decision will be coming out on that very soon with metrics to go along with it. We need to be an enforcer [on this]...and it will be top-down driven."

Gilligan agreed.

"In a very short time, we have been able to integrate a fairly large set of what I call services into a portal that provides a view from the operations center," he told Federal Computer Week. "It's an integrated way of accessing information that in the past has been location-centric. This will open up our vision on how to build applications in the future."

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, which monitors space and military programs, said he was "a bit puzzled" as to why the Air Force had not already implemented a SIPRNET portal, especially because the project was demonstrated so quickly "once a decision was made to do so."

A Cooperative Effort

Behler said the portal will use current commercial standards and Extensible Markup Language specifications to ensure that the portal works with existing systems and future joint service and coalition partner systems.

Although the portal development started in the joint air combat command community, it will expand to encompass the entire Air Force, as well as interoperability with other service portals, he said.

The SIPRNET portal is a "cooperative effort between industry and the military — with the military providing oversight," Behler said.

So far, the service's industry vendors in the Tidewater, Va., area "have been very supportive of rapidly prototyping a capability and working with one another."

He added that the Air Force is also working with Joint Forces Command and other service agencies "to get joint involvement and feedback."

Kenne, Gilligan and others saw the first version of the portal in the demonstration last month, and now Behler said he is looking to secure funding to continue the project's development.

The AFC2ISRC "is hopeful to receive funding to begin implementation of the [portal], spirals 1 and 2, which will be completed within 12 months," Behler said. "The two spirals will deliver a developmental system at the [AFC2ISRC], and a fielded deployable system."

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