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Days of ‘Stovepiped’ Systems Over, Air Force Officials Say

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“Network-centric” operations get no buzz at the MILCOM conference anymore according to a recent report from National Defense magazine following the two day conference.

Organizations like the National Defense Industrial Association used to devote entire conferences for that buzz term, but generals this year declared  “the days of stove-piped systems” to be over.

While it seems that the lack of network-centric focus would mean non-interoperable systems are eliminated or obsolete, it is in fact the contrary, according to Lt. Gen. Charles R. Davis, commander of the Air Force’s electronic systems center, who indicated new stove tops are being added all the time.

“Most of the programs I deal with today have gone along the path of building their own complete infrastructure, their own complete hardware and software protocols, to be able to fit on the network because they are being held responsible for their performance in program A or program B,” he said.

Davis is the former program executive officer for the F-35 program and saw how the aircraft could not do what it was capable of without connecting to the networks of all three services and eight partner countries. Connecting data flow within disparate networks “was just an immense nightmare,” he said.

A prior Defense Department mandate to connect the F-22 and the F-35 has yet to occur since the “half-billion” dollar budget needed is not available, according to Davis.

“One of the problems is that every program has its own funding stream,” Davis said. “Joint Tactical Radio System terminal programs aren’t coordinated with the communication satellite programs, so there are delays in getting the technology to war fighters. The defeatist strategy is to create gap-filler solutions, or patches, so they can link “because that is the only way the system knows how to react.”

The disappearance of “network-centric” made room for the buzzword of “cybersecurity” this year, but Davis points out that each application and security feature is a potential portal for an adversary to intrude into the network.

No matter the buzz word, the question that emulated throughout was that from senior military officers questioning how a pay system to the network got so complex. The bottom line for Davis is that the current acquisition system doesn’t have the flexibility to handle such challenges with such an inflexible budget.

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