Defense contractor hails IT opportunities in 'new era'

J.P. (Jack) London, chairman and CEO of the information technology company CACI International, could be considered "old school" when it comes to contracting with the Defense Department. He has been doing it since the 1970s.

But his company has made it big--$560 million in revenue last year--by staying one step ahead of the trend in defense, and he said Wednesday that the latest trend is toward new information technologies for warfare.

"Welcome to the new defense era!" London told a gathering of the Northern Virginia Technology Council. "If the biggest challenge of the new defense era is asymmetric warfare [like unpredictable terrorist techniques], the biggest opportunity is information technology."

In a heavily patriotic presentation filled with images of President Bush, weapons and the destruction of recent years' terrorist attacks on U.S. targets, London cited numerous signs of change in government thinking about security. And in all cases, he emphasized the importance of information technology.

For instance, he said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is pushing the Pentagon toward "transformation" into a higher-tech military. And in a recently published seminal report, the Quadrennial Defense Review, information technology is emphasized.

London also cited the four priorities of the Bush budget proposal for fiscal 2003: bioterrorism, emergency response, airport and border security, and improved intelligence. "That adds up to nearly $38 billion in 2003, and it adds up to a significant opportunity for the IT industry," he said.

London said tech companies "that have offerings that seem to fit" with the new direction of defense will prosper. "It's all a matter of positioning, matching your skill set, tech set" with the military demand for technology.

London mentioned some of CACI's current homeland security projects. It is developing a mission planner and analyzer for the Marine Corp. War-fighting Lab to help to assess friendly or hostile behavior in "realistic" urban environments.

CACI also is working on: a Web-based security-clearance application; integrating software-enhanced sensors with an ultrawideband, networked, autonomous system to track, locate and determine the status of military assets; voice-print identification for terrorists; and security projects with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Customs Service.

But some participants at the event were not so optimistic about IT opportunities in defense.

Based on the past five to 10 years, said Harry Ridenour of Aegis Research, an intelligence and security services company, "It may be tougher for the small guy, though there are 'set-asides' for them. It will be harder to become a 'prime' unless they have a good niche."

That is because the government has been tightening its belt and cutting staff, so it is issuing fewer, larger contracts, he said. Ridenour was skeptical that Bush's $48 billion defense boost would significantly change the way things are done.

Others failed to see that concern. "If you're part of the defense industry and you're nervous, then something's wrong," said Tony Trombley, a sales consultant at Deltek Systems, an accounting and planning systems firm.