Lawmaker wary of progress in Defense IT transformation

Technology is essential to the United States retaining an edge on the battlefield, witnesses at House hearing say.

The Defense Department has a long way to go in employing information technology to make the concept of integrated war-fighting systems a reality, the chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee said at a Thursday hearing.

"For as difficult as it is to knit together a robust, high-speed, high-bandwidth, secure, dependable, global Internet to support the troops in the field, building it with no one person or organization in charge must be almost impossible," New Jersey Republican Jim Saxton, chairman of the Terrorism and Unconventional Threats Subcommittee, said in his opening statement. How "this arrangement can produce anything at all is a minor miracle."

The Defense Department receives more than $30 billion for its IT budget.

It is vital that IT systems are dependable, Saxton said. But "from my perspective, we have a long way to go" to bring the promise of integrated war fighting systems.

Experts such as George Allen, director of communications and computers for the Marine Corps, Army Chief Information Officer Steven Boutelle and Navy CIO David Wennergreen testified about the IT modernization projects currently under way. Everyone agreed that technology is critical for the United States to retain a competitive edge on the battlefield.

Charles Croom Jr., Air Force director for the Defense Information Systems Agency, said the goal of network centricity, or connecting people with information, is to make dependable information available on a network that supports data exchange on multiple levels. Initiatives to make that happen are in progress, he said in prepared testimony.

According to John Grimes, assistant Defense secretary and department CIO, the government is "leveraging ever-increasing capable information technology to deliver the actionable information that we need to deal with new threats to security and stability around the world."

Initiatives such as the so-called Global Information Grid unite multiple technologies to give war-fighters the information required for success. Grimes touted the Satellite Teleport program, which works via new telecommunications capabilities and satellite terminals. He also noted the importance of systems that can work across jurisdictions to share information.

"The department has bilateral agreements for sharing IT assurance data with other nations," Grimes said. Additionally, an Internet-based program allows for an open exchange of ideas on issues related to security and terrorism.

However, "competition for the department's radio-frequency spectrum to satisfy new requirements" is a major challenge, Grimes said.

Also on Thursday, the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee held a hearing on the fiscal 2007 budget request for unmanned aerial vehicles and for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, or ISR. Subcommittee Chairman Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said concerns remain regarding the department's ISR programs.