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Donovan stresses ‘Digital Air Force’s’ importance and necessity


Acting Air Force Secretary Matthew P. Donovan is driving a new “Digital Air Force” initiative, emphasizing reforms that harness the integrated strengths of a connected network of weapons, sensors and analytic tools.

“Our advantage in future battles depends on our ability to fuse vast amounts of data to accelerate our decision cycle to guarantee the success of any mission. Victory in combat will depend on us becoming a Digital Air Force,” Donovan said.

As outlined in a July white paper, the Digital Air Force initiative encompasses comprehensive changes to how the force gathers, uses and shares data. According to Donovan, “The Air Force must control and manipulate massive volumes of information to out-think and out-maneuver its opponents. The Digital Air Force initiative will ensure all Airmen have uninterrupted access to the data they need, where and when they need it.”

“My goal is to eliminate the time Airmen spend building PowerPoint slides to display information needed to make a decision,” Donovan said. “We should create or have tools to hook into comprehensive data streams to provide real-time information for rapid, data-driven decisions rather than solely relying on their personal experiences, intuition and interpretation.”

The Digital Air Force initiative calls for three connected elements of reform. The Air Force must develop a modernized information technology infrastructure to serve as a common backbone for data and information flow. It must institute data standards that allow the diverse elements of the Air Force to share data and use artificial intelligence platforms. And the Air Force must adopt agile business practices to improve effectiveness and efficiency.

Bill Marion, the Air Force’s deputy chief information officer, is aggressively leveraging innovative commercial solutions to transform cloud, mobile, data, AI and network performance. These enterprise IT services will allow Air Force “cyber professionals the freedom to focus on warfighter tasks, cyber operations and connecting information to our tactical and strategic ends, while providing all Airmen with an enhanced, 21st century user experience.”

The Air Force also recognizes that Airmen must share data in the face of adversary cyber threats.

“Besides our laser-focus on driving the enterprise IT services with greater agility and scale, we’re also ensuring that the cyber security practices are ‘baked in’ and that Airmen are empowered to leverage a global enterprise of data and services,” Marion said.

The Digital Air Force must also use standardized policies and software protocols to ensure the free exchange of data between platforms. Eileen Vidrine, the Air Force’s chief data officer, is working to design and enforce these standards.

“We are charged with harnessing the power of data for timely decision-making and mission success. With new data management practices, we will improve readiness, increase mission effectiveness, reduce the total cost of operations, improve cybersecurity and make rapid, accurate, data-driven decisions,” she said.

Senior Air Force leaders are equally committed to modernizing day-to-day business operations. According to Rich Lombardi, the deputy under secretary of the Air Force for management, “the Digital Air Force requires improved business operations via application rationalization, system consolidation, enterprise optimization and continuous process improvement. These efforts will allow us to continuously identify cost-savings opportunities to directly fund digital transformation efforts.”

Ultimately, the Digital Air Force initiative aims to harness the power of the digital era. “We must move beyond antiquated processes, systems and mindsets,” the white paper concludes. “We will pursue new ways to leverage technology and institute a culture of innovation and informed risk-taking.”


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