Path to modernization is well defined, now Air Force has to ‘follow through’

Though 2023 had its fair share of challenges for the Air Force leadership, 2024 is shaping up to be eventful.

Since Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that the service was not as ready as it could be for a conflict with an adversary like China, the Air Force has been busy reviewing its readiness and planning for fiscal 2024.

For the last four months, the Air Force conducted a sweeping review of its organizational structure, training, and equipment, expecting to conclude in January 2024, and immediately followed by an implementation phase.

“It has become clear to the entire senior leadership team that we are not optimized for great power competition. Over more than two decades, we have optimized to support post-9/11 conflicts and demands; this is not what the nation needs for the coming decades of strategic competition,” Kendall said in an open letter to airmen and guardians published on Sep. 5.

Kendall has long emphasized the need to better position the Air Force for a modern conflict and previously developed operational imperatives to support the Air Force’s priorities. This resulted in new investments and programs  included in the fiscal 2024 defense policy bill.

“This work isn’t finished, but it is well begun,” Kendall said in the letter.

Speaking at the AFCEA Air Force IT day earlier this month, acting Undersecretary of the Air Force Kristyn Jones laid out key areas that will be “most consequential” to restructuring, transforming and preparing the service for a potential conflict. Those areas include everything from reevaluating how the service recruits and retains its talent to improving sustainment and logistics, to advancing its IT capabilities.

“This is an enterprise wide effort and we’re examining all aspects of our organization and processes, and all areas that contribute to our warfighting capability and capacity,” Jones said.

“To guide these efforts, we’ve grounded ourselves in several attributes that we must embody to achieve success in the current and future strategic environment. These include, among others, strong organizational alignment, a focus on enterprise solutions, deliberate integration, and aligned and focused workforce, agile and adaptive processes, and resilient, survivable and sustainable capabilities,” she continued.

Going into the new year, a key part of the Air Force’s push to modernize its forces will consist of transforming its business systems, updating its governance and implementation of IT across the department and improving its operational IT that supports military operations.

Revamping business operations

Several business systems will hit a turning point in 2024. There is still a long way to go in modernizing the platforms, but the Air Force developed detailed roadmaps for the systems’ incremental functionality development.

“We’re on the verge of a pretty significant transformation of our business systems. It’s been a long time coming, and we plan on delivering four systems in the next four years,” Jones said.

The contract management system, or CON-IT, and the Air Force’s core accounting and finance system known as DEAMS, though operationally relevant, is expanding its functionality and deployment to all remaining users across the service in the next two years.

The Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul initiative (MROi), the service’s integrated depot maintenance capability, begins limited deployment in 2024 and continues development and fielding through 2026. The Air Force Integrated Personnel and Pay System, or AFIPPS, will deliver an initial capability to the Space Force in 2025 and complete its capability delivery in early 2026.

Jones said that successful implementation of these systems will depend on having proper controls in place that will allow auditors to rely on financial transactions and reports contained in systems will play an important part.

“To achieve our audit objectives, while we’re developing all these systems, we must ensure that they’re implemented with auditable controls,” Jones said.

Fix computers or lose

After a public outcry to ‘fix our computers,’ a user experience office started collecting data on user satisfaction in an effort to help target specific areas to maximize performance improvements, including software, hardware, network infrastructure, new endpoint, security platforms and cloud implementation.

“For too many years, like much of the government, the DAF has been far behind in this area,” Jones said.

The latest attempt to improve user experience started earlier this month when the service started the migration of the DoD Office 365 Secret solution for SIPRNet with a test group. Senior leaders expect to have a broader rollout in the next couple of months with full transition by spring.

In addition, services from nine locations will be moved to contract for Enterprise Information Technology as a Service (EITaaS) Wave 1 in an effort to outsource basic IT services, nine locations to this wave one contract in FY 24.

“We’ll have a new enterprise service desk, a new unified endpoint management solution, and a new unified desktop configuration. This will enable the sunset of numerous legacy tools starting in FY 25,” Jones said.

Once those tools are in place, the service will start scaling endpoint management to approximately 120,000 devices and an enterprise service desk to over 260,000 users by the end of 2024.

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