Stephanie Meloni

ANALYSIS

3 ways the Air Force Future Operating Concept will affect IT

Air Force officials have had a busy year chipping away at the service’s strategy for air, space, and cyber, as well as its training and operations. Now that it’s become clear what’s needed in the Future Operating Concept, it’s time to put the wheels in motion.

It really boils down to three main priorities where the IT industry can play a role: Achieving multi-domain operations; increasing cybersecurity protections for weapons systems and installations; and increasing automation.

Multi-Domain Operations

This is really the main concept driving the new operating strategy. Air Force ultimately wants to sync operations between air, land, space, and cyber, and integrate systems to a place where tactical air operations are largely supported by cyber and space capabilities. If the Air Force is operating in one domain that’s contested, then it wants the ability to rely on the others to bolster the warfighting operations. This is going to present a challenge for the service, as all of these elements are operating at different paces and on different networks and platforms.

It’s also going to bring increased attention to creating more open mission systems and architectures and breaking down information silos that were created based on mission area. The Air Force will need to create environments where they can easily share intelligence to make faster decisions across all domains.

Cybersecurity for Weapons Systems

As Air Force works to integrate cyber into air, space, and intelligence operations, the service will also work on balancing out its cyber profile by extending cyber protections beyond just networks—this is where about 85 percent of its cyber resources have gone in the past. Air Force now wants to even things out and take a hard look at vulnerabilities for base installations and weapons systems.

A new initiative, Communications Squadron Next, will integrate more of a cyber element into its communications squadrons. The plan is to embed cyber specialists to work alongside network systems administrators to improve cyber protections at each base, as well as extend those protections to weapons systems or aircraft hosted at each base.

Increasing Automation

The Air Force has been very vocal about its desire to take airmen off the task of managing IT, and on to managing critical warfighting and mission tasks. That means the service will be seeking more automation of its IT systems and looking to outsource more standard IT operations to commercial vendors or DISA, which will extend to cloud hosting, data center consolidation, and business operations.

Opportunities for Technology Companies

These new priorities create opportunities for technology companies across the board. The Air Force will need to rely on industry solutions, which are often an easier route when manpower is limited.

Infrastructure vendors will have the most play when it comes to multi-domain operations. This will largely be about breaking down stovepipes and then bringing together the data and applications, so Air Force will look for solutions around configuration management, enterprise architecture, and middleware and applications integration.

Air Force customers will also need help figuring out what to do with the data once it’s integrated. The service will need analytics, storage capabilities, content management, and visualization tools to layer on top of the new infrastructure.

Air Force will depend on cyber vendors to increase cybersecurity for weapons systems. The service will need test and evaluation to determine its vulnerabilities. Then it will be able to move forward with determining what types of protections are needed and where—whether it’s traditional network boundary defense, continuous monitoring, or additional systems engineering. Risk management solutions will be needed since Air Force is still early in the process of discovering where vulnerabilities are and what corrective actions are needed.

Air Force will also need business and operations vendors to help automate solutions and direct personnel to mission essential tasks—be it tactical or an enterprise business IT environment.

As the Air Force works to define what its future operations are going to look like, the service will need to leverage technology from industry to achieve air superiority. Vendors will need to tie solutions to these overall priorities in order to get their attention.

About the Author

Stephanie Meloni is a senior analyst with immixGroup. She can be reached at Stephanie_Meloni@immixgroup.com.

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