Air Force looks for data help from DIUX

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The Defense Department's startup in Silicon Valley has a new task: to make the reams of data that course through the Air Force's Air Operations Centers easier for officials to digest.

Next week representatives of DOD's Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX) will begin a crash course in reimagining how AOCs -- the levers of command and control for the Air Force's air, space and cyberspace operations -- are structured and organized. Air Force officials say it is increasingly critical to fuse data from those domains into a single picture.

The project will be a way "to get some outside thinking into the DOD processes," Lt. Col. Enrique Oti, the Air Force lead for DIUX, told FCW. "Can we use Silicon Valley-style techniques to solve the problem?"

For the exercise, BMNT, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm formed by an ex-Special Forces officer, will link Air Force personnel with Silicon Valley firms for brainstorming sessions. The Air Force is keen to hear from companies with experience using large communications networks, Oti said, adding that he did not know which companies would participate.

Organizers of the project want to see Air Force participants behave like entrepreneurs. Next week will be a chance to hash out ideas that they can scrap or keep in the second week of the program, in April.

Representatives from the Army and the intelligence community may also take part in the exercise, Oti said.

The project's ultimate goal is to simplify the way Air Force officers make rapid operational decisions, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Kennedy, director of cyberspace operations and warfighting integration at the Air Force CIO's office. The exercise will be a chance to bridge Silicon Valley startups, which might have a Hollywood-type notion of AOCs, with Air Force operators, Kennedy said March 10 at an AFCEA D.C. event.

Officials have talked openly about the erosion of the U.S. military's technological advantage over adversaries. DIUX, announced last year but only up and running for six months, is one of Defense Secretary Ash Carter's signature efforts for addressing the challenge by matching startups with interested buyers or emulators within DOD.

Carter was in Silicon Valley last week to hear presentations from network security and big-data firms that are working with DIUX.

Of the military services, the Air Force has the most representatives at DIUX, and the office's director, George Duchak, is the former head of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Information Directorate.

The Air Force has been scouting partnerships in Silicon Valley for some time: CIO Lt. Gen. William Bender has said he had an Air Force liaison in Northern California building relationships with academia a year before DIUX was announced.

One zero-day away

Another ongoing tech initiative at the Air Force is a joint project between the 24th and 25th Air Force, the service's main cyber and intelligence components, to hone capabilities that have already been deployed.

"We bought things based on the requirements and the environment that we were predicting," Kennedy told FCW, describing the project. "Now we've fielded them, we have a new environment. How do we take what we fielded and solve this tactical operational problem?"

During the panel discussion, Kennedy said indications of an impending attack are much murkier in cyberspace than they are in the air.

"We're one zero-day away from our network going down, potentially," he said, referring to previously unknown software exploits.

"Right now, our sense is that we are accepting risk that we don't even know," he said, adding that an Air Force cyber task force is working on addressing that shortcoming.

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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