Amid struggles to integrate mobility across the Air Force — including in the areas of the service handling logistics — leadership needs to do better at harnessing technology, according to one top official.
If apps and smart devices can improve how the Air Force does logistics, it could have broader implications across the service, Maj. Gen. Cedric George, deputy director of resource integration and logistics chief information officer, said Nov. 29 at an AFCEA DC event in Washington.
“The reality is … we’re mobile ‘lite.’ It’s almost like a smorgasbord — we have technology in different places and it’s not fully integrated,” George said. “We’ve got to move ourselves from a 20th-century, network-centric kind of role, which is what we live in, to a 21st-century, data-centric infrastructure. The question is how we get there in a way that balances the risk concerns we have.”
In a corner of the Air Force where the average age of the 359 separate IT systems used to get the work done hovers around 18 years, George said the current mobile strategy isn’t moving fast enough. That’s leaving the service to get things done “through brute force and on the backs of our people.”
He hopes to take a page from the Google playbook of failing fast and succeeding fast, balancing risk tolerance with the need for security and technology that’s actually effective.
One way includes partnering with Silicon Valley organizations to create a mobile app that connects to logistics and combat data systems to allow real-time tracking of ongoing work, rather than airmen entering data manually into systems after a long day at work.
“Technology is the force multiplier it’s always been — the right technology applied to the right place will drive the operational fix we need,” George said. “If we get this right, it’s like the stealth for [the logistics] nation — this is like the next laser-guided bomb. If we get this right, that’s how big this will be for us, that we have our data using machine learning and AI … so that it’s telling us a story.”
In another example, George said he’s working with the 459th Air Refueling Wing’s maintenance group to test out the use of smart devices on the flight line.
What he thought was “they would just use it to read their tech data and…do standard [connections] for instant messaging,” George said. They did that but also connected the GO81 maintenance tracking system to track work they were doing on a KC-135 tanker. “GO81 was never designed to be a mobile platform, it’s a desktop platform, but our airmen are figuring it out and they’ll continue to do it. So we have to figure out how to enable that at all levels.”