AFMC system key to Air Force cyber superiority goal

Col. Russ Fellers, program manager for the Air Force’s Combat Information Transport System, provides a roadmap for the multi-faceted program to the more than 200 attendees at the May 6 CITS Industry Day at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.  (USAF Photo by Mark Wyatt)

Col. Russ Fellers, program manager for the Combat Information Transport System, provides a roadmap for the multi-faceted program to more than 200 attendees at the May 6 CITS Industry Day at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. (Air Force photo by Mark Wyatt)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The Combat Information Transport System, known as CITS, is a high-priority item for the U.S. Air Force, which seeks to create, manage and defend a truly enterprise-wide internet. 

CITS, which will enable all of that and more, is so important that the Electronic Systems Center listed it number two out of more than 300 total programs during a recent center-wide program prioritization. Being listed that high means a bevy of additional resources, including organic and contracted-support personnel, are flowing into the program office. 

"There's a clear recognition now that CITS requires a tremendous amount of effort and an equivalent amount of support," said program manager Col. Russ Fellers. "Our team is working a lot of long hours, but we're really seeing the fruits of prioritization now, with resources being matched to the tasks at hand." 

With a total portfolio value of $6.4 billion and projected new annual expenditures of $500 million, CITS is also garnering a lot of interest from industry. That interest was evident during a May 6 industry day, when industry representatives packed the base theater to listen to Colonel Fellers and numerous others share details about the program's recent restructuring and the way ahead. 

The CITS program, prior to restructuring, had been managed as one very large but amorphous Acquisition Category-One (ACAT-I) program. 

In its new form, which has been approved at all levels of the Air Force and DoD acquisition hierarchy, it's composed and managed in segments: Information Transport Systems, including all the fiber, copper and wireless components used to move vital information around the globe; the Air Force Network, which includes all efforts to build, manage and defend the consolidated network - both NIPRNET and the secure SIPRNET; CITS sustainment activities; and finally a batch of smaller acquisition efforts that can be managed as ACAT-III programs and thus freed from the high-reaching ACAT-I oversight requirements. 

The restructure, according to Colonel Fellers, not only presents a more efficient construct, but more accurately reflects the CITS mission. 

"We're providing all the capability to operate a secure, manageable enterprise network that achieves the reliability, consistency and security objectives of the Air Force," said Colonel Fellers. "This new structure allows us to manage the total portfolio according to those separate though related needs." 

Network defense is high on everyone's priority list these days, and CITS managers have a multi-pronged effort planned. 

"Network threats can come from a lot of different places, and from both outside and inside the network, so we have to look at a layered approach," Colonel Fellers said. The layered defense scheme envisioned includes defense "rings" at the strategic, theater, tactical and unit levels. 

Officials also plan to consolidate operations to minimize the number of threat entry points, reducing the Air Force's 104 independent NIPRNET connections to the internet down to 16 and eliminating major command-centric domains. The latter will get Air Force members and employees onto one central Air Force domain, achieving, among other things, the 'e-mail for life' designation that negates the need to change addresses with every intra-service move. 

Officials also hope consolidation efforts will help offset the personnel losses suffered by the communications career field as a result of PBD 720 cuts. 

"They were probably hit as hard, or harder, than anyone," Colonel Fellers said. "By reducing the number of locations where all of our core IT services are provided - down to just four active-duty and one Guard location worldwide - we can hopefully provide a high level of service even with the reduced staffing." 

In the near term, CITS program managers will also: work to upgrade IT infrastructure at Guard bases, so that they will parallel the capability of active-duty bases; re-compete a large segment of a second-generation wireless upgrade designed to significantly enhance security; and continue work on other major security initiatives such as the Vulnerability Lifecycle Management System, aimed at increasing desktop security, and the data-at-rest initiative, which protects information stored on laptops and other portable media. 

"The stand-up of 24th AF and move of cyber operations to Air Force Space Command indicate how important it has become to manage and defend the Air Force network," said Colonel Fellers. "Just like we need air superiority and space superiority, it has become clear that the Air Force needs cyber superiority to perform its mission."