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Guest Blog: Lowering Walls and Blurring Lines

April 12, 2013
By Dr. Louis S. Metzger

The latest Incoming column from Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN, titled “Link Warfighters to Technologists at the Lowest Possible Level” (SIGNAL Magazine, April 2013), resonated with observations I’ve made and conclusions I’ve reached over the years. I’ve been involved with the research and development and acquisition communities for a long time, including serving as the Air Force chief scientist from 1999 to 2001. Perhaps my adding to Lt. Kohlmann’s advice will help it gain additional traction, and stimulate further discussion and activity.

Leveraging technology to provide our military with improved capability requires diverse insights, multiple skills and varied roles. The insights cover current understanding of user needs, the operational environment, and the potential of existing and emerging technology. The skills span science and engineering, contracting, testing and training. And the roles include requirements developer, laboratory investigator, acquirer and support provider. The realities of specialization demand that multiple communities come together to provide all these ingredients. Unfortunately, interpretation of rules, processes and culture have built walls, and suspicion between different communities to the extent that the teamwork and collaboration needed to expeditiously develop and field new capabilities often islacking.

Link Warfighters to Technologists at the Lowest Possible Level

April 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

As conflicts become more complex and uncertain in the 21st century, quick pivots to new technologies will become increasingly important. The starting point for this rapid fielding must begin with more frequent, and more relational, lower level warfighter-technologist interaction.

The current system does this nominally, but the relationships usually are far removed from the waterfront or the front lines where many user-generated solutions could be discovered. Science advisers, often from places such as the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory or the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), are stationed regularly at critical commands throughout the services. They provide a useful link between incredibly intelligent technologists and seasoned veterans.

Unfortunately, many of the interactions are only with senior officers and not the muddy boot or deckplate warriors who know best what is giving them day-to-day headaches. Additionally, many of the officers dedicated to acquisition programs are years removed from being actual operators. With the accelerating pace of technological change, even a year away from operational status can leave noticeable knowledge gaps.

Experience certainly is valuable, but after spending a long period of time in the same profession, a person’s creativity sometimes is lost. Even known innovators can get stuck in ruts when not exposed to different views of the world over sustained periods of time. Furthermore, as technology evolves, the quickest adopters usually are the younger generations. They often have better insights into how to integrate emerging, generationally ubiquitous trends to their professions than do their seniors who relied on legacy systems.

What Color Is Your Money?

February 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

The Defense Department has a spending problem and must be reined in. The solution, however, goes far beyond simplistic budget cutting efforts such as across-the-board sequestration. It involves a fundamental cultural shift from both our appropriators and our subordinate-level commanders.

The past 10 years have been a financial boon for the military. This was true even as the rest of the U.S. economy was beset by recession and increasing unemployment. In 2001, the Defense Department base budget was $290.5 billion (in fiscal year 2012 dollars). By 2011, this amount had risen to $526.1 billion, excluding the funding required to sustain the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Beyond the rapid increase in the overall budget, a more pervasive and concerning trend exists: the incredible waste and inefficiency brought by established interests more concerned with keeping the spigot of money flowing than with winning wars.

Part of this is because of the ease with which the military has received unfettered access to our nation’s treasure. Because it is politically unpatriotic to question the military—and by extension, the appropriations it requests—Congress has acquiesced in pouring money into anything earmarked defense. Ironically, many of the same politicians who decry throwing money at education to improve schools hardly bat an eye when doing the same for defense.

Additionally, the constancy and security of military funding psychologically insulates the recipients of such largess from the realities of a constrained resource environment. This can lead to indifference when managing resources, especially those funded by “other people’s money”—in this case, the U.S. taxpayer.

Technology Is Good, but People Are Better

January 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

Uncertainty reigns in warfare, and it is impossible to fully understand the intentions of a capable, thinking adversary in the midst of conflict. Yet, the best counter to this is to have equally adept and creative personnel able to recognize that warfare does not merely consist of armed clashes, but the combination of moral, psychological, economic and political forces.

In a landmark historical incident, the onset of World War I brought about one of the more remarkable chases of 20th century warfare. As Barbara Tuchman describes in her book, “The Guns of August,” with hostilities declared in early August 1914, Germany sought then-neutral Turkey as an ally to mitigate a Russian front to its East. The masterstroke to securing this alliance involved sending the entire German Mediterranean fleet—all of two ships—in a mad dash toward the entrance of the Dardanelles on a diplomatic, not military, mission.

Not expecting this unorthodox move, Britain deployed its numerous ships to protect a French convoy sailing from Africa while also maneuvering to prevent an escape by the Germans through the Straits of Gibraltar. Through the winding fates of war, multiple opportunities were missed to sink the armed German messengers. The once-bold Nelsonian Royal Navy had revealed its evolution toward a technologically superior, but far more untested, conservative one.

The ultimate arrival of the Germans persuaded the Turkish government to renounce neutrality, causing Winston Churchill to later admit this one action caused “more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship.”

Evolution Is Leading Us to Software-Defined Networks

October 1, 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann

 

The next step in the transformation of the U.S. Defense Department systems architecture will be networks defined by software instead of by hardware. Software-based network controls will extend the scope of what currently is limited only to data center operations.

Traditionally, switches and routers have been set separately from what was managed as computing inside the data center. Special-purpose devices were installed to solve specific problems of network management. This resulted in complexity and inflexibility. For example, to change networking data centers, operators had to reconfigure switches, routers, firewalls or Web authentication portals. This required updating virtual local area networks, quality-of-service settings and protocol-based tables with dedicated software tools. Network topology, as well as different software versions, had to be taken into account. Consequently, the networks remained relatively static because operators sought to minimize the risk of service disruption from hardware changes.

Enterprises today operate multiple Internet protocol networks for voice, data, sensor inputs and video. While existing networks can provide custom-made service levels for individual applications, the provisioning of network resources largely is manual. Operators configure each vendor’s equipment and adjust parameters, such as bandwidth, on a per-session, per-application basis. Because of the static nature, networks cannot adapt to changing traffic, application and user demands. With an estimated 15,000 networks in place, the Defense Department has difficulty managing such a proliferation of options.

Thrifty Can Do It for the Defense Department

September 1, 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann

The benefits of virtualization can be extended to thrifty end-users either through public clouds or via private clouds. The time has come to reach out to the millions of user devices that operate in thousands of separately programmable silos that require spending money on labor-intensive overhead. U.S.

Defense Department projects can be brought into a consolidated cloud environment where much lower costs and increased security can deliver immediate benefits.

The May 21, 2012, issue of Forbes magazine describes how start-up firms acquire information technologies without spending much money. These firms use commercial cloud services instead of setting up their own data centers.

There now is a flood of commercial offerings for low-cost cloud computing solutions. Thought should be given to switching smaller Defense Department projects to deployments through Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). More than 2,000 such projects now exist in the Defense Department.

New projects need not be encumbered with the burden of elaborate planning, cost justification, development and acquisition of computers as dictated by existing directives. Instead, the department can adopt the method for setting up new projects inexpensively and instantly. This can be done in weeks, not months or years. An experimental system can be tried without much risk and for a small investment. Innovative applications can be tested and even discarded without committing to a multiyear stream of cost. After a new project demonstrates its suitability, it always can be scaled up.

Forbes illustrated the benefits of thrifty computing for a small venture firm:

Old Defense Department Silos Must Be Swept Out

August 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann

In last month’s column, I reported that there were 2,904 separately funded fiscal year 2012 information technology budgets. Many of these would be set up to operate their own and incompatible networking, storage, server, operating systems, middleware or control commands.

The Defense Department Must Account for its Information Technology Silos

July 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

Among many definitions, the Oxford dictionary defines a silo as a process that operates in isolation. In the U.S. Defense Department, everyone works in separate components. Computer silos have proliferated with the availability of a huge number of customized information technology solutions.

How Efficient Is the Management of Defense Enterprise Systems?

June 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

In March, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) delivered to the House Armed Services Committee a report on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. These ERPs would be replacing legacy systems costing $890 million per year. Replacing such systems would take anywhere from seven to 14 years. However, when the ERPs finally are installed, they would cost up to $207,561 per user and have a payback time frame as high as 168 years.

The Efficiency of Defense Department Information Technology Spending

May 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

Any aggregation of computers, software and networks can be viewed as a “cloud.” The U.S. Defense Department is actually a cloud consisting of thousands of networks, tens of thousands of servers and millions of access points. The department’s fiscal year 2012 spending for information technologies is $38.4 billion. This includes the costs of civilian and military payroll as well as most information technology spending on intelligence. The total Defense Department cloud could be more than $50 billion, which is 10 times larger than the budget of the 10 largest commercial firms. So, the question is: How efficient is the Defense Department in making good use of its information technology?

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