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January 25, 2010—One of the ways the Air Force is working to bolster the robustness of its cyber networks is to introduce more automation into them so that they can respond much more rapidly to thwart attacks, says the service's chief information officer. This improves upon the current, slower set-up that relies on humans to intervene.

"There is not time to form an [integrated product team] and have a meeting to decide what to do," in many cases when attempted cyber penetrations occur, said Lt. Gen. William Lord, the Air Force's CIO and chief of warfighting integration, Jan. 21 during an Air Force Association-sponsored Air Force Breakfast Series presentation in Arlington, Va.

Accordingly, Lord said, the service is looking at automated tools that operate at a machine-to-machine level and respond near instantaneously to prevent network penetrations.

He called this a "man-on-the-loop" process compared to today's man-in-the-loop standard. It is a much more active type of defense, he said.

This is just one of the initiatives under way to strengthen the networks. Another idea Lord cited is to have a focused defense.

"We don’t think we can protect the entire network all of the time," he explained.

However, if USAF can maintain "cyber superiority" over those portions supporting ongoing combat operations, that may be enough, he said.

Lord said that approach "makes an enemy expend more time and energy because they have to attack lots of different places, and we are only going to perhaps put our effort in this [one] place at any one time."

Lord oversees the Air Force's $17 billion IT portfolio.

He said he wants to maximize the return on the Air Force's IT investment through a close relationship with industry.

"Industry is our innovation center," he said, adding that he wants industry to provide "total solutions," with Air Force networks "agnostic" of the devices on it.

He also wants to reduce IT policy, arguing that "too much policy stifles innovation."

That said, he said he does think the Pentagon's established acquisition policies offer enough flexibility to support the time-sensitive needs of operating and maintaining the Air Force networks.

"We just need to have a little bit of a change of mindset perhaps," he said.

To support the fielding of cyber technology more quickly, the Air Force is looking at a three-tiered acquisition system.

The first tier would cover the "standard kind of programmatic stuff" for procuring large-scale systems that are envisioned for fielding five years to 10 years out.

The second tier follows the model of the service's Big Safari program office for fielding new capability in quick spirals. (Big Safari is a program office at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, that sustains and modifies the Air Force's manned special mission aircraft.)

The third tier encompasses rapid capabilities, which Lord described as "when I need to buy something that is thrown on the network today and I need to have answers in two, or three, or six hours."

To help break the logjam of bureaucracy in fielding new IT capability, the Air Force and Army now operate under a reciprocity arrangement, said Lord.

If a system has been certified on the Army's networks, then the Air Force will accept it for the Air Force's networks, too, and vice versa, he said.

Lord said today the Air Force has about 19,000 software applications, but an effort is under way to reduce that number to 10,000.

Doing so, he said, would save the service $1 billion annually in operations and maintenance costs.

As for training the Air Force's cyber warriors, Lord said the goal is to infuse "the same combat training and rigor that we use in the rated career fields."

He also thinks the Air Force is on the cusp of changing its policy that currently blocks social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) on its networks.

"While we perhaps will open ourselves to some vulnerabilities, there may be some great synergies, some great combat good that comes from the use of those kinds of systems," he said.

After all, the young men and women entering the Air Force—who themselves are likely savvy in these areas—are expecting to work in a technologically advanced service, he said.

(For more coverage of Lord's presentation, see Get with the Times.)