Gates wants DOD IT consolidation, but the past isn't encouraging

A centralized military network would help cut costs, but can DOD make it work?

In explaining his plans for reducing the defense budget by $100 billion over the next five years, Defense Secretary Robert Gates alluded to the goal of a common operating environment as a way to not only save money but improve operations.

“All of our bases, operational headquarters and defense agencies have their own IT infrastructures, processes and application-ware,” Gates said. “This decentralized approach results in large cumulative costs, and a patchwork of capabilities that create cyber vulnerabilities and limit our ability to capitalize on the promise of information technology.”

It’s an idea the Pentagon has been pushing for years, although it has been picking up renewed steam recently. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of the new U.S. Cyber Command, which was activated in May, also recently called for a common operating view of all defense networks.

A centralized network that gives the military a common IT environment would indeed improve efficiency, cut costs and bolster security, too. But how realistic is it? The Navy developed a common environment with its Navy Marine Corps Intranet, but that project took 10 years and a quite a few fits and starts to get going. And it still has its critics.

One place where the military has specifically worked toward cross-service interoperability is at the Joint Forces Command, which, among other things, has worked on the challenge of sharing data across systems with different security classifications. But JFCOM would be closed down under Gates’ cost-cutting plan.

Is a common, defense-wide IT environment possible? Would an effort that large be confounded by the large number of legacy applications, mismatched systems and other factors? Or is there a way it can be achieved – perhaps leading to a transformational change in the way government systems operate? 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. We think this is a topic worthy of discussion.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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