Winnefeld: Military needs better IT innovation
WASHINGTON – The military needs to get better – a lot better – at information technology innovation, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld told a group of Department of Defense tech whizzes on Thursday.
To illustrate the point, Winnefeld related an incident earlier in his career when as an aircraft carrier captain, he had to manually calculate the potential location of an “enemy” submarine during an exercise because no computer program was available to do that seemingly basic task.
“Think of it . . . a $6 billion aircraft carrier, and the best I could do was type in a sub’s last known location by hand and then drop a circle on it, and make that circle bigger myself every few minutes or so by typing in its radius, which I calculated myself,” he said in his prepared remarks at Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Joint Warfighter Day at a conference center near Washington.
“If I happened to get a new hit on the sub’s location, I started the process all over again,” he said. “Christopher Columbus could have performed the same exercise with a quill and an ink bottle.”
But when he asked that a computer program capable of doing the calculations be added to the carrier’s tactical display system, he was told doing so would take several years, cost millions of dollars require extensive testing.
“That’s not the way we want to do IT in the 21st Century,” Winnefeld told the audience.
The military has made great strides in network warfare over the last decade, and now it needs to learn to keep up with the pace of innovation that prevails in the commercial tech world, he said – “but do so inside our own classified enclaves.”
One way to make things work better is to eliminate problems created by the military services maintaining separate networks, he said, and create a “Joint Information Environment” with a shared infrastructure.
“Information technology is now a central driver of combat effectiveness.,” Winnefeld said. “Providing our warfighters with the right IT tools, and doing it in an agile way, is just as important as providing them with the right weapons.”