DoD CIO on Modernizing the Pentagon

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 08-19-2002

DoD CIO on Modernizing the Pentagon

Even before Sept. 11, the concept of a "revolution in military affairs" was being widely embraced by the new leadership of the U.S. Department of Defense. Now, the push to modernize the Pentagon is in full force. Writer Elizabeth Wasserman spoke recently with DoD CIO John Stenbit about the changes.

CIO INSIGHT: What issues face all government CIOs when it comes to dollars, legacy systems, politics and aging technology?

The government is not a decentralized authority because the political-financial intersection is pretty complex. There's too much control. That works fine with things determined by the government, but it doesn't work in cases where the pace of technology is determined by somebody else. In the information technology business, the pace of technology is determined by the commercial sector. The government can install all these processes and then assume it can execute. But by then, the world has moved on. That's the fundamental problem for a government CIO.

The Role of Emerging


The Role of Emerging Technologies

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is urging IT change at the Pentagon. What role will emerging technologies play?

In the last few years, there's been a larger and larger concentration of destructive power delivered by smaller and smaller groups of people. And that's a big difference from the past. In order to counter that, we have to be much more agile and flexible. Information technology allows us to do that.

The system you rigged up after Sept. 11 to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan allowed a commander to be in Tampa while forces were in Afghanistan. Why is that significant?

When commanders figured out there was a target they wanted, there was probably somebody pretty close to it. It could have been a B-52 that took off from Missouri and flew hours to get there. It could have been somebody from an Air Force plane down South. It could have been somebody from a carrier. IT helped us to make sure they all got to the same place at the same time in order to have the maximum effect. To bomb on-target in World War II, the way they did it is they lined the ships up off the coast and said: "One, two, three—everybody shoot." Information allows us to be asynchronous in time and space. It's a big advantage.

How do you accomplish this?

We're going to create a networked environment. Twenty-five years ago, we were in a telephone, switch-circuit environment. For the last 25 years, we've been in a broadcast environment. A network-based system allows this principle of being wherever you want, whenever you want, doing your job.

In order to do that, we're going to use the technology of fiber optics and dense wavelength division multiplex systems on the ground, and also bring that into space with lasers to form a very, very wide Net backbone. We're going to move away from circuit-based systems and into IP-based systems. We're going to make sure that network extends even further via satellites and digital radios.

Second, we want to populate the network with information. We need to continue to develop new sensors that allow us to basically steal people's secrets and use them. We need to get everybody used to posting information on the network before they start to process it so that other people can also be processing it in parallel. That's going to require sophisticated meta-data tagging and browsers, and also value-added integration on the Net.

The third part of this revolution is that we have to protect that information from adversaries and prevent somebody else from doing the same thing to us.

Business Transformation

Business Transformation

Is there also transformation on the business side?

It all applies to the back-office as well. There's no reason why a network-centric environment—where everybody posts the information before they process it—shouldn't make it easier to do business. In a networked world, you can build things so that the data is posted and then multiple applications use the same data. There's an acronym that I use called OHIO—Only Handle Information Once.

How do you make sure new IT projects don't create more red tape?

I look at projects, and if I see them as stovepiped or not open or not networked, then I say, "Hey, that's the old world. We're not doing that anymore." In the history of commercial enterprise in this country, the move from stovepipe systems to network systems has been enormously productive. So has the move from vertical integration, where everybody has to do everything that's associated with a product within a given enterprise, to one of what we call integrating the supplier base and the customer base. Think about the innovations of Wal-Mart, for instance. Wal-Mart allows its suppliers to know every time one of its goods is sold. Not only that, Wal-Mart expects its suppliers to restock the shelves. That makes the whole system much more efficient.

DoD is trying to better manage its supply chain with enterprise resource planning. How many different ERP systems are in play?

One or more from each of the main suppliers: Baan, SAP, Oracle. But with each one of those, where they started out being the cat's pajamas and were going to fix everything, in much of our experience, that's not been quite true. We need to network even more information in order to solve the whole problem.


: Career Highlights">

Stenbit: Career Highlights

Department of Defense

  • Assistant Secretary of Defense, Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, George W. Bush Administration
  • Deputy Director, Telecommunications and Command and Control Systems, Ford Administration
  • Staff Specialist, Worldwide Military Command and Control Systems, DoD, Ford Administration

TRW Corp.

  • Executive Vice President, responsible for the planning and analysis of advanced satellite surveillance systems
  • Technical Staff, The Aerospace Corp., overseeing command and control systems for missiles and satellites, and satellite data compression and pattern recognition

Professional Affiliations

  • Fulbright Fellow, concentrating on coding theory and data compression
  • Chairman, Science and Technology Advisory Panel to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency
  • Chair, Research, Engineering and Development Advisory Committee for the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration


  • B.S., M.S., Electrical Engineering, California Institute of Technology