Defense IT: Preparing for the worst and other survival strategies in 2012

2011 concluded with a lot of uncertainty about Defense Department spending, and we can expect 2012 to be a rocky ride. The failure of the congressional supercommittee to identify $1.2 trillion in budget cuts triggered, at least in theory, the sequestration process that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned would be a “doomsday” scenario.

Those cuts won’t go into effect until 2013, but they pile on top of $450 billion in spending reductions already under way at DOD, greatly exacerbating the existing budget pressure.

Predictions range from the cuts being palatable to catastrophic. One thing is certain, though: This won’t be the same kind of budgetary drawdown that followed past wars.

“The last time defense spending was reduced, everything was different,” said Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute. “There were fewer threats, the year-to-year budget declines were much more modest, and the reductions came after significant increases in acquisition. That’s not the case now.”

It’s critical to get the best plans and policies in place now for training and modernization while keeping future austerity in mind, said Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, the Army’s deputy chief of staff.

“Not only do we have to get it right today, but we have to get it right tomorrow,” Lennox said. “And traditionally we don’t get it right tomorrow. So in a budget-constrained environment, how do you make sure you have a modernized Army? It can be smaller, but it has to be equipped and it has to be trained.”

Lennox outlined what he called seven key commandments that could help the Army weather the painful budget cuts to come, which could serve as guidelines for the broader DOD community as well. They are:

Prioritizing. “We have to set and enforce our priorities,” he said. “We’ve done the hard work with that part, and now we have to stick to them as funding gets cut.”

Revalidating and adjusting requirements. In the case of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, requirements were tweaked several times to avoid requirements creep and establish the most efficient program. “It’s been eight or nine months of hard work and asking tough questions in order to bring down the costs,” Lennox said. “Now we’ve got a program that’s the way ahead.”

Taking a holistic approach. Lennox said his office has coordinated with other agencies to get a view of requirements and capabilities across the Army so officials can modernize, integrate activities and avoid duplicating efforts.

Focusing on affordability. “Affordability should be the independent variable,” he said. Costs should be part of the portfolio and the grounds for fully auditing any program.

Eliminating redundancies and inefficiencies. In some cases, that means working with other services to share costs — as was the case when the Army partnered with the Air Force on the C-27J cargo plane and with the Navy on joint high-speed vessels.

Taking advantage of commercial offerings. Mature commercial technologies can be quickly fielded and replaced — and they can save money.

Using incremental procurement. The military must manage procurement at the pace of modernization, rather than fielding trucks, for example, to the whole Army because by the time the last one goes out, a new one is already needed, Lennox said.

However, it’s not all bad news. Analysts say federal IT spending remains in good shape, and considering DOD’s still-sizable budget, it’s safe to predict that defense IT will face less of a drop-off in funding than other areas that might fall victim to the budget ax.

“We’re not seeing the same growth as earlier in the decade, but there’s still a lot of money being spent in new ways, and there are still opportunities,” said Brian Haney, senior vice president of member services at Deltek. “It’s about innovation. IT spending is outpacing other segments because it’s being looked at as an enabler. [Defense IT] is not a sky-is-falling type of market.”

Enterprise services

As DOD looks for ways to save money, enterprisewide IT services are becoming increasingly attractive.

The Defense Information Systems Agency has already taken a leadership role through various efforts, such as hosting the Army’s ambitious (though embattled) enterprise e-mail program that will eventually consolidate more than 1 million e-mail accounts and programs currently housed in various servers, enclaves and installations across the Army.

DISA is also slated to act as an access point for other DOD enterprise services, such as internal file sharing and a DOD marketplace for mobile applications and widgets. Furthermore, under a new “DISA first” strategy, the agency will be the go-to provider for IT infrastructure as DOD shuts down and consolidates thousands of its data centers.

Don’t expect the enterprise services juggernaut to slow anytime soon, though. DOD CIO Teri Takai recently released an aggressive, 48-page road map for consolidating IT services across the department, effective immediately. Among other things, the plan calls for dramatically consolidating business systems across the department and reducing the costs associated with managing the systems and their data. At present, DOD has an inventory of nearly 3,000 systems, which cost close to $7 billion annually to maintain.

Other targets include identity and access management, voice- and video-over-IP networks, and help desks.

Cyber defense collaboration

Cyber warfare picks up speed every year, and 2012 will be no different. The U.S. Cyber Command and its Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy components have all launched relevant operations. And sources say they can expect to be even busier in 2012 as partnerships among cyber adversaries evolve their own techniques and technologies.

The military is well into its efforts to train forces to operate in cyberspace, and in the next year, those programs will continue to grow as demand for their graduates skyrockets.

In 2012, look for increased collaboration between DOD and the private sector. Before stepping down as deputy defense secretary, William Lynn outlined the Defense Industrial Base Cyber Pilot program, which is bringing together military and industry leaders to share knowledge and best practices in fighting cyber threats.

That collaboration between the military and the private sector is critical given that more than 90 percent of military communications infrastructure, platforms and programs are built on commercial software and networked devices.

ISR investments

DOD’s efforts in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance were recently dealt a blow with Iran’s proclaimed capture of an RQ-170 Sentinel drone, just one in the military’s arsenal of unmanned aerial systems. But don’t expect that incident to stem investment in ISR capabilities.

Intelligence community leaders have said they expect to be subject to budget cuts as much as other agencies. But given the wealth of threats facing the United States and ISR’s agility versus old major weapons systems, investment in unmanned aircraft and other ISR technologies will continue in 2012, with billions budgeted for research, development and deployment.

A quick look at the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act shows at least $13 billion in ISR-related funding, but significantly more could be spent. According to the Government Accountability Office, ISR spending is not necessarily transparent due to its complex management and poor oversight.

ISR money is divided among a number of agencies and programs, including the Military Intelligence Program, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and various intelligence components within the military services. All of those and others have been allocated ISR funding for fiscal 2012.

Going green

As the Pentagon seeks ways to save money, energy efficiency is looking increasingly attractive. Numerous efforts are under way as services, agencies and offices implement programs that take aim at energy consumption.

One of the most prominent examples is the massive data center consolidation effort, which Takai said in November had exceeded initial goals with the shutdown of 59 data centers expected by the end of 2011. According to a recent report, DOD will save $58 million in energy costs per year because of the closures.

DOD’s website touts a number of efforts to “go green.” They include the development and use of biofuels, investments in solar and wind power, implementation of energy conservation programs, and strategic partnerships with the Environmental Protection Agency and others.

The military’s interest in energy efficiency has jumped in the past year, with more efforts popping up every month. Most of the programs are fairly new, but if they prove to be true money-savers, we can expect energy efficiency to be a good-news trend that takes off in 2012.

Read about gov 2.0 in 2012 or more forecasts for government IT.


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