Air Force works to speed data

Noting the fighter pilot's creed, "speed is life," an Air Force leader said the same holds true in the service's homeland security mission.

Collecting the right information, fusing it and getting it to the right people as quickly as possible is the key to success, said Lt. Gen. Ronald Keys, deputy chief of staff for air and space operations, speaking today at an AFCEA International event in Washington, D.C.

Because integrated capabilities are an "absolute requirement," the Air Force is working to close technical, legal and political seams by "divorcing capabilities from the platform," Keys said.

As an example, Keys said that he carries a cellular phone, a Research in Motion Ltd. Blackberry, a Hewlett-Packard Co. iPaq and a laptop. "Sometimes they don't talk, and other times my security guys won't let me use one of them," he said. He said there definitely is a need to get the right information quickly, but something needs to be done to connect the dots.

Building an open architecture is the foundation for integration, as long as new solutions continue to be "plug and play," Keys said. He added that the Joint Tactical Radio System, which uses software-centric radios that can be programmed to patch users into various radio frequencies, is an excellent example of a future capability.

Another challenge that information technology can help overcome is information overload. Keys joked that "helmet fires" get started when pilots have to assimilate too much information during a critical mission but said the Air Force is making progress by including more machine-to-machine communication. Currently, the system works well with two signals, but any more than that and things start to slow down dramatically, he said.

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