Air Force IT chiefs ponder outsourcing, wireless

MONTGOMERY, Ala.?One way to gauge IT trends in the Air Force is to listen to what the service calls its MAJCOM SCs. Translation: Top information systems officers at the major commands.

At the annual MAJCOM SC panel discussion held during the Air Force Information Technology Conference earlier this week, nine colonels, one brigadier general and one civilian discussed systems integration, wireless connectivity and outsourcing. They were questioned by a former MAJCOM SC, Maj. Gen. Dale Meyerrose, now the director of command and control systems for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

A call for more vigorous adoption of wireless networking came from Col. Richard Jensen, CIO of the Air Force Reserve Command.

"The wired net is about as ubiquitous as you can make it. With wireless, we're in following mode," Jensen said. He said more IEEE 802.11 nets should be installed, with their use becoming as secure and routine as plugging into the nearest Ethernet port.

"You can't treat it as something special," he said.

Referring to the widespread use of BlackBerry handheld computers for wide area communications, Jensen added, "We can't let Research In Motion Ltd. dictate wireless standards for the Air Force."

Integration of data systems across commands?horizontal integration, as the Air Force calls it?is an imperative from both Air Force and Defense Department brass, but is coming slowly, the systems chiefs said.

"Horizontal integration will take another two budget cycles as funding goes to capabilities rather than systems," said Col. David Schreck, CIO of the Air Force Education and Training Command.

Asked if all line programming would be oursourced, Kenneth Percell, director of IT for the Air Force Materiel Command, said that most of it already has been.

"We'll never totally outsource our blue-suit programmers, but we'll have less with different capabilities," Percell said.

One questioner, mindful of the recent launch of the IT Commodity Council, asked whether one vendor would ever have a monopoly on Air Force PC purchases.

That would "have as much chance as a snowball on Talapoosa Street," answered Air National Guard CIO Col. James Brown, referring to a nearby road in hot, muggy Montgomery.

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