Maj. Gen. William Lord | IT consolidations lift the Air Force

Interview with Maj. Gen. William Lord, director of information, services and integration in the Air Force Office of Warfighting Integration and CIO

Maj. Gen. Willam Lord

Rick Steele

Maj. Gen. William Lord is no stranger to taking a little heat. During two 'town hall' meetings he moderated with civilian and Air Force personnel at last month's Air Force IT conference, Lord discussed the consequences of the service's decision to downsize its roster. Lord, currently director of information, services and integration in the Air Force Office of Warfighting Integration and CIO, handled some tough questions with the kind of candor you would expect from someone who has been in the line of fire.

Lord's career has put him in some challenging places, including as commander of the 81st Training Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and as director of communications and information at the Air Mobility Command headquarters, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

GCN: What particular assignments have given you the technology training to handle this role?

LORD: Probably my most important assignments were in the White House, Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command. As junior officers we need technical background and use that in technical jobs; as senior officers we want to have a broader vision of both operational and technical expertise.

Looking back, my first experience as a communications officer in England in the 1980s was installing command and control systems for NATO. ... The early '80s was almost before the invention of the network. At the Air Mobility Command, where I was CIO, we did some innovative things, like consolidation of 70,000 e-mail accounts.

My follow-on assignment at Air Combat Command not only involved me in that command and control aspect but also the deployed warfighting needs. Finally, I had the opportunity as wing commander to be in charge of the schoolhouses that teach these core competencies. The most technically challenging job I had was in the White House Communications Agency.

GCN: How would you characterize the reaction at the two town hall meetings during the Air Force IT Conference to the plans to resize the service? How have you answered concerns that people will be asked to do more with less?

Lord: The feedback I received from the two groups I addressed was that they appreciated the candor, because we are facing large reductions of personnel. They are interested in the shape of the communications and information career force of the future.

I think what we're really getting at is doing the same amount with fewer people and new processes. Example: On Air Force bases, you pick up the phone and dial 0, you get the operator who lives on that Air Force base; but at home when you pick up the phone and dial 0, you get an operator in Los Angeles. By implementing some of those industry best practices, we can still provide quality of service with less [resources].

And I would suggest that potentially we can give even greater quality of service with fewer people by modernizing. Air Force Smart Ops 21 is our program to do exactly that.

GCN: What are the three most important projects to continue the transformation of the Air Force?

Lord: I think the establishment of Air Force Network Operations Command, giving us a single commander for Air Force network operations, is one. Lt. Gen. [Robert J.] Elder is that person. His other hat is 8th Air Force commander at Barksdale, [La.] His work allows us to consolidate 13 network operations centers. [We're] going to get that down to only two in the near future. That gives us unity of command across the Air Force network, so I'd list that as one. It also gets to the heart of the cyberspace operations options the Air Force needs.

The enterprise service bus that delivers services via the Air Force portal, and our Global Command Support System, is probably the second priority. We currently do instant messaging, collaboration, etc., but we need to do more with our communities of interest. We're expanding into the voice-over-IP world, we want to do desktop videoconferencing'and all these services would be provided by the Air Force portal. We have at least 200 operational applications, running everything from the combat ammunition system to IM-ing. So the AF Portal is a high priority.

Then the third is integration of those disparate systems that provide command and control for our warfighting forces. Those are lots of independently grown command-and-control aspects of a combined air operations center. We're integrating those and finding great synergies, not only in cost savings but in warfighting.

Example: We use a system called Rover, which allows a Predator [unmanned aerial vehicle] to send video to airborne assets, and now to ground forces, on a laptop computer. Now both Army or Air Force [troops] ... can see the same air picture that the Predator can see from thousands of feet above, the ability to see around buildings, all with an unmanned aerial vehicle, all networked. The Navy is also buying into the Predator program.

GCN: Can you describe the steps the Air Force is taking to act on the expansion of its mission to include cyberspace?

Lord: That is currently being defined'and is a big work in progress. The Air Force has a natural leadership role in cyberspace ops. But because we are interconnected, we first have ... to make sure that we don't do anything that creates the open door that allows someone to have access to our networks. We concentrate on defense in depth. So, in many ways, we're already interconnected and talking to other agencies. We have been focused for the last decade on defense of the Air Force networks, but clearly that is only a part of cyberspace ops.

GCN: What is the most important development in the Air Force that no one is talking about?

Lord: It's the Air Force portal. I had to be convinced, quite frankly, but I am now a believer in its utility. It didn't have a great rollout plan four or five years ago ... but now it's really delivering capability, not just administrative but operational.

We're going to [narrow] down 19,000 applications to 1,000 applications. [There's the] potential to save us hundreds of millions of dollars ... there is an area we are doing more with less.

I'd close by talking about the global war on terror, the Air Force's No. 1 priority. Sometimes we get wrapped around the axle on the technology ... or transformation ... but it's really about dominating in air, space and cyberspace. What I've seen in the past four years is a refocus of the IT community on solving warfighting integration issues, where previously we were focused on business transformation pieces. If I had to prioritize, I think the taxpayers want us to be effective warfighters first'and that's where I'm focusing our IT efforts.

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