The challenge of providing secure information is not new. Since the early days of computer networking, we have been striving to ensure the sanctity of bits and bytes. As computer and communications technologies advanced exponentially, so did the security challenges facing our information community. Now, information systems are everywhere and have become essential elements in the daily operations of industry, civil government, the intelligence community and military forces.
In a month when the focus of SIGNAL Magazine might reasonably be expected to cover the aftermath of September 11 one year later, it is an honor to be invited to provide a European introduction to coincide with TechNet Europe in Budapest on October 17 and 18. And that, surely, is an example of the continuing strength of AFCEA International. For while world events may have a significant impact on one particular country, the association can take a broad view and incorporate the outcome into its agenda for the future, but maintain continuity of progress and action to improve and strengthen its appeal and commitment to the membership.
One year ago, I discussed the role that AFCEA International can play in supporting interoperability among coalition forces. Until recently, that interoperability drive largely has focused on ensuring that vital equipment is built to the same standards on both sides of the Atlantic. The primary hurdle to be overcome was incompatibility among different nations' information systems, and building new systems along the lines of common standards helped us move toward built-in interoperability.
In the past year there has been spirited public debate about the future of the intelligence community. While this debate largely is rooted in the attacks of September 11, 2001, many of the issues currently being addressed go far beyond the war on terrorism. One of the central issues includes key aspects of the intelligence community's functions in an infocentric democracy that is transforming its military into a network-centric fighting force.
When U.S. trade and military alliances are mentioned, Europe usually is the first region that comes to mind. That continent has been a long-established trading partner, and the nations ringing the North Atlantic set the global standard for democratic capitalism in the post-World-War-II years. In foreign affairs, NATO stands tall with more than half a century of security and peacekeeping that defines it as the most successful alliance in history.
The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps are in the midst of one of the greatest sea changes in history as they transform from platform-centric into a network-centric fighting force. Several steps will enable this long-term change, beginning with IT-21 and leading to FORCEnet. Right now, the step that is in the spotlight is the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet, or NMCI. It is one of the largest information technology contracts ever let by the government and, as with all major programs, NMCI is generating new challenges as its reach expands throughout the Navy and the Marine Corps.
My first year as your AFCEA International president was a "super-deluxe" experience. Although I tend to spend only a small part of my time reflecting on the past, I now look back on this past year with the same positive feeling that I have when I look ahead to the future. My heartfelt thanks go to all of you who have taken the time to support AFCEA by providing me with the necessary education to lead our association. I hope to build on that education as I work with the Board of Directors, the regional vice presidents and the chapters to improve the service that we provide as AFCEANs.
SIGNAL's July issue featured a commentary by Michael J. Varner, president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter, about the value of the chapter organization. Next, AFCEA's regional organization merits examination. Ever since AFCEA assumed its current structure more than 20 years ago-still as a national organization-its regional vice presidents, or RVPs, were the coordinators between a group of chapters in a certain region and the staff of the association. RVPs, as the extended arms of the AFCEA chairman of the board and the president, always have performed functions in support of AFCEA headquarters, in support of the chapters and have been instrumental in facilitating exchanges of experiences with colleagues in other regions. They are appointed by the chairman of the board, subject to confirmation by the Executive Committee.
If there is one issue that has been a common thread throughout the spread of military information systems over the past few decades, it is interoperability. What once was a nuisance quickly grew into a major challenge as we became more reliant on information technology to prevail in the way we fight. What once was a marginal issue grew to dominate command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) as a key requirement for all future systems. Yet, as interoperability continues to increase in importance, as a goal it remains stubbornly elusive.
With the capabilities of today's information technology systems, military, government and industry leaders are nearly overwhelmed with data. The desktop computer has become more than a machine: It's a window to and a connection with the world. Senior government decision makers increasingly are taking advantage of commercial tools, and transformation is the umbrella term used to describe how we are evolving from the industrial age to the information age. In the past, control belonged to the organization that massed forces; today, it belongs to the group that efficiently turns data into useful information.
A few weeks ago, there was a story on the evening news about a waitress in Texas whose son is a Marine stationed in Iraq. Although his unit could communicate with the higher echelons, its members were having difficulty communicating with each other while on the battlefield. He asked his mom to go to a local electronics store, buy a set of walkie-talkies and send them to him. She was happy to help the war effort, but what she didn't anticipate was the hit the equipment would be with her son's buddies who wanted walkie-talkies of their own.
The transformation taking place today in both the military and in industry is a logical and necessary step along the evolutionary trail. History documents how economic and societal structures adapted to changes brought about by the transition from the agrarian to the industrial age. We have to turn on the Discovery Channel to learn how people must have felt about adjusting to different ways of earning a living, new modes of transportation, revolutionary tactics for fighting battles.
If we really believe a network-centric coalition/joint force offers an opportunity for effects-based conflict in the future-and that this same network-centric force improves lethality, intelligence sharing and command and control-then why aren't we embracing the concept of changing the culture to match the technology capabilities that Free World industry is offering to warfighters in the fight for freedom?
Last year, I discussed in my commentary how information must be available-as freely as oxygen in the air-to virtually everyone. In presenting this point of view, I offered that power lies in how one uses information.
The Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986 instigated much of the transformation that is taking place in the military services today. It set the stage for the coordinated efforts outlined in Joint Vision 2010 and Joint Vision 2020 and set the armed forces on the path to becoming fully joint in operation, organization and doctrine. From the standpoint of technology, it has influenced the way systems are developed, tested and deployed.
Everything is "transforming" these days. Our economy, our military, our nation and our place in the world are all under immense pressures to change, to dramatically alter what we are to keep up with what we need to be.
During the past 18 months, the topic of security has been explored in the pages of SIGNAL Magazine in dozens of articles and in at least a half dozen commentaries. Security also has been a priority for AFCEANs worldwide whose responsibilities range from ensuring network security to offering professional training, to enforcing disciplines and compliance and investing in technology. We know that we must set the bar very high and demonstrate that intrusions or disruptions of our networks is not an option. As information technology professionals, we recognize that security is a social, legal, technical and cultural issue and are working hard to cover all the bases.
The recent Iraq War has demonstrated the effectiveness of network-centric warfare as a core military doctrine. Though vastly outnumbered by Saddam Hussein's armies, U.S.-led allied forces swept through Iraq and toppled his brutal regime in three weeks. The melding of information technologies with new operational doctrines represents a revolution in military affairs that promises to change defense and security establishments around the globe-especially among NATO allies upon which rests the security of the Free World.
The transformation that is redefining our military, far from slowing down, is actually gaining speed as it reaches into every corner of military affairs. If we measure the success of military transformation by the rate of positive change, then we have done more to improve the way we fight over the past four years than was achieved over the previous 213.
It's time for us to admit that to achieve interoperability we must establish standards for the information technology community. Only through this mechanism will U.S. and coalition forces achieve true interoperability. And, this mechanism must be switched on at the highest levels of the U.S. Defense Department.