Defense

Air Force CIO describes requirements nightmare

U.S. Air Force profile image for Lt. Gen. William J. Bill Bender.

Lt. Gen. William Bender calls the effort update IT for the USAF's Air Operations Centers "under-resourced."  (Image: U.S. Air Force)

Updating the IT architecture of the Air Force’s Air Operations Centers, the levers of command and control for the service’s air, space and cyberspace operations, is a requirements nightmare that has stalled because of a lack of resources, according to the service’s top IT officer.

The update for the AOCs is "under-resourced, it's late to need, and it's an area where we've made it so complex that it ends up in some cases stopping us in our tracks," Lt. Gen. William Bender, the service's chief information officer, said May 1.

There are seven geographic AOCs aligned with the combatant commands. The system of systems is being updated to a new security architecture, referred to as AOC-WS 10.2. The update is in the acquisition cycle right now, with Northrop Grumman Corp. being the main contractor, according to the Pentagon.  

AOC-WS 10.2 is slated to be fielded in fiscal 2017, but the path to doing so is anything but smooth, according to Bender. Each AOC is "an amalgamation of about 40-plus systems that, over time, have been thrown together with sort of duct tape and bailing wire and any way you can kind of plug it in," said Bender, who was speaking at a luncheon hosted by AFCEA’s Northern Virginia chapter. "And long ago, it became antiquated to the point of well past mid-life, especially if you consider all of the individual systems" that comprise it.

Bender, who was deputy chief in the Office of Security Cooperation in Baghdad before becoming Air Force CIO in September, described the AOC upgrade as an unsavory blend of cost constraints and "requirements creep," in which various people involved in the project have proffered requirements for it. "It's a real challenge for our program office to keep such a massive effort inside of … the budget that they’ve been given, which is dwindling over time," he added.

The new architecture will help the cybersecurity of the AOCs by enabling information sharing across systems and applications, Anna Santos de Dios, a division chief in the Air Force CIO’s office, said in a separate interview.

Santos de Dios acknowledged deeply ingrained structural issues within the current AOC architecture that the new system is intended to address. AOC-WS 10.2 is meant to fix "those architecture challenges from having a system built off of [1990s], 2000s-type architecture and infrastructure that we’ve been struggling with over the years," she said, adding that the new system’s "service-oriented architecture" will make future upgrades easier.

But for now, the AOC architecture remains a headache for the Air Force CIO. "I think at some point, you try to snap the chalk line and move forward and forget about the past, and kind of design what you need today," Bender said.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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