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Air Force discusses information technology with Congress

WASHINGTON -- Department of Defense leaders met with the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities April 3 to discuss the role of information technology on mission capability.

"The Air Force is undergoing the most significant transformation in its relatively short history," said John M. Gilligan, the Air Force chief information officer. "This transformation is largely based on how we use information and information technology to increase our operational effectiveness."

Examples include increasing the power of older weapons systems, Gilligan said. He cited the B-52 Stratofortress.

"In Afghanistan, information technology permitted us to combine precision-guided munitions and rapid target identification to turn the Cold War-era B-52 bomber into an effective platform for performing close-air support for a small number of special forces on the ground," Gilligan said.

Gilligan told the subcommittee that information technology does more than improve the effectiveness of every one of the service's warfighting systems. It also ensures efficiency and cost savings when the service deploys.

"In support of the (air and space expeditionary force) construct, we deploy forces and equipment worldwide, leaving many of the support functions at home," Gilligan said. "Moving information rather than people reduces the airlift and logistics required, as well as the cost of operations."

Another example of the increased efficiency brought on by information technology is the creation of the Air Force Global Combat Support System, which combines more than a hundred IT functions that go beyond personnel issues.

"The online capabilities organize over 50 combat logistics services such as aircraft maintenance, status and spare parts ordering and tracking, as well as over 100 self-service capabilities for personnel, pay, medical and other support functions," Gilligan said. "By leveraging commercial Internet technology and changing our operational paradigm, we are getting Air Force members out of the customer service lines and back on the flightline."

Gilligan explained to the subcommittee some of the problems the service encounters as a result of its strong dependence on information technology, such as keeping quality people to make the systems work.

"Retaining our highly skilled workforce in a competitive industrial market environment is a continuing challenge for us," Gilligan said. "We are using a variety of methods, including bonuses, to retain our experienced personnel. In parallel, we are also looking to leverage industry capability to perform some information technology functions currently performed in-house."

Several subcommittee members asked questions regarding how the services are protecting their IT systems from attacks. Of particular concerns were situations where information is compromised and where there is denial of service. The Air Force is finding solutions to these problems, Gilligan told the group.

"We continue to work to enhance the tools, processes and personnel skills that we use to protect our systems and networks," Gilligan said. "We know that our adversaries are working hard to exploit vulnerabilities and disrupt our military networks. In 2002, we monitored 4.4 billion suspicious connections -- a fourfold increase over 2001."

According to Gilligan, of those 4.4 billion suspicious connections, about 93 actually resulted in a compromise of information or denial of service -- about the same as in 2001.

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