OMAHA, Neb: Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III announced plans today to significantly speed procurement of information systems in the department.

Lynn announced formation of a task force that will concentrate on speeding up the IT acquisition process during the U.S. Strategic Command Cyberspace Symposium here.

The task force will consist of experts from the Defense Department’s acquisition, technology and logistics office. “The goal is to develop a significantly faster and agile acquisition system more tailored to an IT world than [to] large pieces of military equipment,” Lynn said.

The U.S. military is the most capable armed force in the world, in part, because of the edge given by the reliance on information technology, Lynn said. But the procurement process for software and hardware still is mired in the industrial age, tied to the way the department buys tanks or ships or aircraft.

“In this very ordered process, we decide what the mission is, identify the requirements that are needed to meet that mission and analyze alternatives to meet those requirements,” Lynn said. “Eight or nine years later, we actually have something.”

It has worked, because the United States military has the best weapons systems the world has ever seen, but in the IT area, “our system has followed that model, and it simply doesn’t work,” he said.

“On average, it takes the department 81 months from when an information technology program is first funded to when it becomes operational,” the deputy secretary said. This means that systems are four to five generations behind the state of the art upon delivery.

Lynn compared this process to that of Apple, which took 24 months to conceive, develop, test and begin to market its iPhone. “In [the Defense Department], we will barely have a budget document in 24 months,” he said. “So Apple gets an iPhone and we get a budget. It’s not an acceptable trade-off.”

The new task force will report directly to Lynn, and he has directed its members to refashion IT acquisition around four principles. First, speed must be the overarching priority. “We need to match the acquisition process to the technology development cycle,” he said. “In IT, this means 12- to 36-month cycles, and not seven to eight years.”

Second, the Defense Department must acknowledge that incremental development, testing and – whenever possible – fielding of new capabilities provide better IT outcomes than trying to field a large, complex system all at once.

“Third,” Lynn said, to achieve speedy, incremental improvements, we need to carefully examine how to establish the requirements that govern acquisition.”

While systems must be designed to be useful to the users, he noted, departing from standard IT architectures adds to the cost and can significantly add to the time it takes to field the system.

“To achieve speed, we must be willing to sacrifice or defer some customization,” he said. “Making use of established standards, and open modular platforms, is of paramount importance.”

Finally, the deputy secretary said, the department’s information technology needs to run the gamut from simple word processing to providing command and control for thermonuclear weapons.

“We must recognize that different IT applications demand different levels of oversight and enterprise integration,” Lynn said. The task force is working to outline a series of acquisition paths that apply high levels of institutional due diligence where it is needed – the nuclear command and control architecture – and strip away excess requirements where it is not – such as in replacing word processing software.

The acquisition process is not an easy one to change, Lynn acknowledged, because the Defense Department has unique information technology needs that limit its ability to replicate the dynamism of private industry.

“Our systems must work across business, warfighting and intelligence applications,” Lynn said. “We cannot usually go without the functionality of existing systems as they are being updated or replaced.”

And Pentagon officials cannot just walk down to an electronics chain store and pick up new equipment, he noted. “The planning, programming and congressionally mandated budgeting process must all be in alignment,” the deputy secretary said. “Despite these significant obstacles, I believe we can make dramatic improvements in IT acquisition.”

The task force, he said, will identify who is being innovative, how to make better use of existing authorities and where to try pilot projects.

“Our intent is to target things we can change now,” he added, “while laying the foundation for longer-term reforms that may require Congress to legislate new authorities.”