General: 'A hard path' to modernizing military computing

February 5, 2015 Updated: February 5, 2015 at 4:20 am
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The first step in reconfiguring the Defense Department's tangled computer networks came and went last fall with the highest honor for a technology change.

"No one noticed," Air Force Gen. John Hyten told a crowd of 2,000 during the 2015 Cyberspace Symposium at The Broadmoor.

Hyten was the top speaker at the symposium sponsored by Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's Rocky Mountain Chapter, which has attracted computer experts from across the country to study network security and other issues.

Hyten, who oversees the Air Force's computer warfare arm and heads Space Command in Colorado Springs, said he's trying to push modernization in military computing in the face of rising threats of cyberattacks and Internet spying.

"I can say we're on the right path," Hyten said. "But, oh my gosh is it a hard path."

That path included the move last fall to combine Army and Air Force networks in San Antonio into a single system.

While big business has been streamlining its networks for years, the military has been slow to trade the dozens of networks across the Pentagon for a single, more secure system.

With the Army and Air Force joining forces in 2014 and now expanding the partnership worldwide, the rest of the military will follow.

"We have a plan to move the Navy and the Marine Corps over to that same environment," Hyten said.

Having a single military network would help the military deal with the rising tide of online threats. Now, with multiple networks, the military has vast tracts of Cyberspace to defend with multiple gateways that can be vulnerable to hackers. A single network would give them just one heavily defended target.

"We have one military and one Department of Defense," Hyten said. "We need one network."

Hyten, a 1981 Harvard graduate who started his Air Force career in computing, said part of his job is to get leaders talking about the correct topics when it comes to the Internet. Cyberspace, he said, should be seen as a tool - like aircraft and satellites - that can help the Air Force win battles.

"I don't care how you get your email," Hyten said. "That's not a fundamental mission of the Air Force."

The Air Force is working on key features for computing, including "identity management", which controls how users access data, safeguarding top security items while letting all airmen access what they need for their jobs.

"It's not that hard, but we haven't done it," Hyten said.

One thing could hamper advances in computer warfare: budget cuts.

Hyten decried automatic sequestration cuts that could carve $500 billion from Pentagon spending over a decade.

"It's just bad for America," he said. "It's bad for the military. Going down that path is a mess."

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

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