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Building an Information Infrastructure

by
General Merrill A. McPeak
Air Force Chief of Staff

Remarks at the Air Force Day Luncheon, Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, Washington, DC, 10 January 1994

I understand General [Gordon R.] Sullivan [chief of staff] was here last month -- and you'll host Admiral [Frank B.] Kelso [II] next month. What makes AFCEA a great outfit is that you bring together ideas from across government and industry. So, I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the Air Force view. One thing you'll notice from each of the service chiefs is that we all agree on the increasing value of information for military operations. We're all trying to understand how technology will help us use information in new ways. The real fear people have these days is that somehow the so-called information highway will pass them by. It's up to us to make sure the Air Force doesn't suffer this fate. We must be plugged in. We can't let ourselves become like the ghost towns that missed the railroad.

As I see it, two problems stand in our way. First, while the 911 calls keep pouring in, our budget is heading south -- fast. We've got to find a way to answer those calls -- but on a shoestring. The second problem is that information technologies are not helping like they could. What we need is an approach that establishes sound standards up front, so that we get the most bang for our buck.

Unless they've been on Mars for the last ten years, most people understand the southbound budget problem. However, most people don't realize how the business end of our job is actually picking up. Often we have to remind folks that even though the big-league threat is gone, there's still plenty of work for us to do -- that the Air Force is not throttled back, cruising on auto-pilot. In Iraq, we've now flown over 170,000 sorties protecting the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south. That's more than twice the number of sorties since Desert Storm as we flew in Desert Storm. In Somalia, we've delivered 83,000 tons of supplies over 16 months in 5,600 missions. A quarter of those missions were flown before our ground force partners went into [Somalia]. In Bosnia, 3,600 airlift and airdrop sorties have delivered 39,000 tons of food, fuel, and medicine. This activity has now surpassed the Berlin Airlift as history's longest humanitarian air operation. We've got hundreds of Air Force people stuck in some pretty exotic spots -- like Andean mountain tops, or in the Amazon Basin -- fighting the drug war. And, thanks to many of you here, we have about 50 satellites on-orbit and are launching at the rate of just over one new satellite per month.

I'm proud that the Air Force has kept up this pace, supporting national objectives despite a historic drawdown. The Air Force budget has dropped 47 percent in real terms since the peak years of the mid-80s. Active duty end strength is already down a third. Our fighter force is down to about half what it was five years ago. What's probably even more critical to you is that the Air Force modernization account is down 60 percent from its peak. We're working very hard to reduce the cost of doing business, but frankly, I'm kind of running out of ideas.

Now some people -- perhaps many in this room -- point to reaping the benefits of the "information age" as the answer to our problem. Maybe so. Talking about the "information age" has become a kind of cliche -- but it strikes me as a little odd. It's as though someone woke up one day and discovered this new commodity called "information." Of course, we've always prized good information -- especially in military operations. I'm reminded of Admiral [Ernest J.] King's [chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet] famous remark during World War II: "I don't know what this logistics is, but I want some of it." Well, we all want information. The trick is exploiting information technology to get data to the right user, at the right time, in a form he can use.

Today we're on a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding the full impact of information technology. That's why Vice President Gore established the Information Infrastructure Task Force to study this issue from a national perspective.

That's important. Information technology is a big issue -- a national problem. When I try to look at it from an Air Force perspective, I quickly see that we're not the driver. We don't own or even make much of a dent in the marketplace. In this consumer-driven industry, business has to focus on the bottom line -- and rightly so. You work independently, develop proprietary technology, go your own way, get the edge on your competitors. That may be okay if the customer is, say, a small accounting firm, but it doesn't work well for us, the armed forces. We can't go separate ways. We found this out, again, in the Gulf War.

After years of talking about command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I), we used it in Desert Storm. We found that older terminals were overwhelmed by the volume of communications. The air tasking order that orchestrated over 2,000 daily coalition sorties was hundreds of pages long. For some units it took more than five hours to transmit and print. We had to hand deliver it to the Navy. One reason the services couldn't talk to each other was because our Pacific and European commands each had their own systems. This put the Navy in the awkward position of trying to select a system that might not be the right one -- then put it on a carrier where space is at a premium. In other cases, it took the better part of Desert Shield to patch together commercial and military systems so we could track supplies. Our own Gulf War Air Power Survey listed the Secure Telephone Unit-3 as one of the five most effective technologies in the war because people used it to bypass a C4I system that did not fit their needs.

Now, as I said, we recognize that the Air Force does not own the C4I market -- nor do we want to. In fact, we want to divest ourselves of building in-house C4I capability. We want to rely on the commercial sector, to outsource, to buy off-the-shelf. We want to take advantage of what you produce and with minimum investment make it work for us. But, even though we don't drive the market, we remain big customers. It's incumbent on us to be the best customers we can be in this environment.

It seems to me one of the first steps we can take is to set firm standards -- up front -- to let both Air Force customers and industry providers know what's expected so we can work together to solve our problem. Lt Gen Carl G. O'Berry, my deputy for C4, has developed a model based on the traditional building code, permit, and inspection process. This approach makes it easier to understand how the Air Force is going to set information standards.

The building code analogy refers to traditional construction codes with which all architects, contractors, and craftsmen must comply. These readily available codes cover design and construction of everything from basement to roof. They guarantee that connections to common utilities work as expected. For example, they ensure that water drainage pipes will flow into the city sewage system, the electrical circuits will accept power from the local grid, the water heater can be hooked up to the natural gas line.

We can picture C4I systems as traditional buildings in the sense that they must be built and operated to code. If not, then the system might not work as advertised, might not work at all -- something we cannot tolerate in a combat environment.

We'll call our C4I "building codes" Air Force Technical Reference Codes. They'll contain the standards and guidance necessary to allow developers and users to produce C4I systems. They will be user-friendly and concise. Our codes will cross-reference DoD, federal, national, and international guidance and standards. Anyone who wants to build any type of C4I capability for the Air Force will need to comply with these codes -- just as a contractor would when building a new home.

Along with codes there are also building permits. For example, when you begin construction of a home, a permit is issued and displayed to verify that your blueprints conform to all applicable codes. Building a C4I system for us will require a permit in much the same way. We will compare proposed systems to the code to ensure the hook-up is transparent to the user, that it will work as advertised.

Finally, there's inspection. During the construction process, a county inspector checks the home for code compliance. This examination includes the physical structure, electrical wiring, plumbing, and so on. This will hold true for our future C4I systems. When we hook it up and it passes data as designed, then we'll certify it as meeting our standards.

Well that's my cut at the C4I world. I suppose there's not a person in this room that won't be affected by our "code-permit-inspection approach". As I see it, we need to be better customers so that you can be better suppliers. Together we can build an infrastructure that allows us to communicate anywhere, anytime, to anyone. That, in turn, will go a long way toward helping to answer those 911 calls, despite the budget drawdown.