DOD must overcome 'Stone Age IT' to keep competitive, official says

DOD at tipping point for keeping pace with technology, acquisition cycles and budget struggles

The Defense Department can't afford to stay behind in implementing modern technology, and it must balance tech demands with pressing budget issues. If the department can’t keep up, it stands to lose the competitive advantage on the battlefield, a top DOD official said July 19.

“We’re still an industrial country; we still have that industrial construct. We’re trying to figure out how to make the transition to the technology age,” Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the FOSE conference in Washington. “When we did this before, it was from an agrarian society to an industrialized one.”

But that major transition is hindered by unprecedented debt, and a balance must be struck between evolving technologically and financial resources, he said.

“We’ve been a nation at war for 10 years. ... But it’s a huge national price, and it leaves our country at a $15 trillion debt. We could shut down [DOD] for the next 15 years and we still couldn’t pay that,” he said.

However, Cartwright said he is confident in the nation’s resiliency and that solutions will be found.

“That competitive advantage is critical to our ability to compete on the battlefield,” Cartwright said.

However, he acknowledged that DOD faces major hurdles in catching up to the speed of technology.

“DOD is pretty much in the Stone Age as far as IT is concerned. We’re still trying to reconcile wired and wireless,” he said.

That sluggishness is compounded by an acquisition system that leaves troops with outdated technology before it even reaches their hands, Cartwright said. Faster acquisition methods are needed to counter an improvised explosive device threat that tends to evolve on a 30-day cycle or a seven-year process for replacing the Humvee, he said.

He praised the incremental approach to acquisition used for the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, pointing to that program as a model for development and deployment of military systems. He said that the first instantiation of the Predator has had three iterations, each integrating new technologies.

“That has to be the way we move,” Cartwright said.

Cartwright said that the cyber domain is promising for the U.S., but that it is critical to get it right early.

“The Cyber Command and the military cyber components are part of a new structure integrated across many disciplines,” he said. “But we can’t isolate cyberspace the way space was [when it was established as an operational domain]. This is too important for our nation.”

He also stressed the importance of the new DOD Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace, noting that it serves as a basic framework from which the department – and broader government – can use and build on.

“The cyber strategy is an iterative framework to take us forward in cyber…it’s going to evolve, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

And while it’s a good start, there will always be work to be done, Cartwright said.

“We’re moving along at apace. But it’s never fast enough,” he said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Thu, Sep 22, 2011

There are so many ways to cut costs it is hard to know where to begin. Tether me to my desk is the biggest waste of tax dollars. The government pays for office space & utilities, transportation, PC, etc. The country wastes gasoline by requiring everyone to commute, wastes money by consolidating everyone into fixed locations in high rent areas (Wash DC). If we can fly planes in Afghanistan from California then I think we can work in DC and live in Iowa. The government and all of their issues support big business/big money. What taxpayer sold the government $16 muffins? Shame on them. If you think that the government is all to blame think again. Money makes the world go around, the world go around..... Money runs the world. The more you have, the more influence you have. We don't telecommute because we would put big oil, car manufacturers, everything that goes into building more mass transportaton, etc out of business. Or at least keep them down to one or two planes and a few yachts. Lay off the government worker/reduce the military. Wow that makes sense. Not if you are trying to create jobs. How many belt way bandits do you think that would put out of business? I have contractors tell me everyday that they can't afford to become govt employees because their pay and benefits would be cut. Wah! My pay and benefits have been cut for 40 years. The only rich government workers are the retired military receiving SES pay and General officer retirement pay. And the converted contractors that came over with the same pay as they were getting when they were contractors. And yes, my fellow taxpayers that is happening. Get rid of the old technology, get rid of the old money, get rid of the old thinkers and replace with money saving new innovative people. We can afford new technology if we get rid of the brick walls.

Tue, Jul 26, 2011 Laura Hearne manassas, va

Likely the means by which Pedator was developed and procured was to circumvent the stone age procurement and fiscal laws and rules designed by congress to spew money into the districts. The one year money given to most IT folks defies logic. Few meaningful IT programs are blessed with the multi year procurement dollars that would make real planning and thoughtful acquistion possible. Everybody out there is dreaming if they think things are going to change without getting the congressional death gripe off out of acquistion cylce. They don't write rules to make the system better, they write rules to keep their jobs.

Wed, Jul 20, 2011 Gato Malo Rhode Island

Due to the currents hacks around the world Cyber Security is NOW critical. It always was but CIO just did not understand the problem or just did not put in the priority. The responsibility for customer DATA is the CIO. If DATA theft was a real crime them maybe CIO would pay more attention because it's their butts on the line.
be Pro-active not re-active and maybe you may not get hacked by 16 year old cyber punks.

Wed, Jul 20, 2011 IT_Fed Washington DC

So, as our Program Managers say, "Show us the money" Gen. Cartwright! You can bemoan that we are in the stone age in front of all the vendors at FOSE; but when you cut money for IT and tell us to cut even more for the "pointy end of the spear" how can you buy the IT that you want ? Bottom line: you can't have it both ways... YOU are supposedly setting the priorities inside the 5-sided wailing wall...and what you've told us is to cut...cut...cut everything; even IT.

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