AFSO21 event improves global communications system

  • Published
  • By Maj. Chuck Hansen
  • Air Force Network Integration Center
Air Force Network Integration Center personnel recently led team members representing four Air Force major commands in a three-day event here to improve information assurance processes for the High Frequency Global Communications System. The eight-step problem-solving event was in support of Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century.

This process improvement event came about as a result of a recent Defense Information Systems Agency Command Cyber Readiness Inspection, which uncovered deficiencies in HFGCS IA processes. The team consisted of military members, government civilians and contractor subject matter experts from six Air Force Space Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Materiel Command and Air Combat Command organizations.

HFGCS is a worldwide network of 13 high-powered, high-frequency radio stations providing command and control communications between ground agencies and U.S. military aircraft and ships. Its many missions include transmission of emergency action messages to America's nuclear forces, support for space launches, long-range communications for Navy ships and maritime patrol aircraft, and voice and data communications for the president and other senior leaders while in flight.

To ensure these vital missions are accomplished, AFNIC provides program office support for HFGCS on behalf of AFSPC's Directorate of Air Space and Cyber Operations. AFMC's HFGCS System Program Office at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center is responsible for system sustainment and is the government's link to the contractors who support the system. AMC operates the two network control stations and one of the radio stations, while the other 12 radio stations are operated by U.S. Air Forces in Europe, ACC, AFSPC, Pacific Air Forces, and the Navy. Information assurance support is provided by the 375th Communications Support Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The readiness inspection uncovered problems with the automated tool used to push patches to the system --it was reporting that it was pushing patches when, in fact, it wasn't.

"We knew that coming into the AFSO21 process and thought it was the entirety of the problem," said Duncan Roper, team co-lead and member of AFNIC's HFGCS Branch. "What we found when we ran through the eight-step process and did the root cause analysis was that the real problem was a lack of clear documentation of who was supposed to do which IA functions. As a result, we weren't doing end-to-end validations, and when the patch tool failed, we didn't know it."

This discovery and others led to developing countermeasures to ensure HFGCS security and compliance. Countermeasures include researching and acquiring other remediation tools, increasing system scan efficiency, and developing an HFGCS IA Concept of Employment document to clearly define the process and each organization's roles and responsibilities in it.

The team worked through the first five steps of the eight-step problem solving process over the course of the three days. They clarified and validated the problem, identified performance gaps, set improvement targets, determined the root cause of the deficiencies, and developed countermeasures to fix the problems. The team will work through the remaining three steps over the course of the coming months. The final steps are to see countermeasures through, confirm results and processes, and standardize successful processes.

Overall, the team was enthusiastic about their participation in the event.

"For me, this event was a 'ginormous' step in a necessary direction," said Maj. Dion Mack, Director of Operations for the 89th Communications Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Md. He said he was pleased that the team was able to capture the detailed process requiring cross-organizational efforts, pinpoint deficiencies in the process and make on-the-spot improvements, all in the space of three days.

"We developed an 'all-in' team mindset whose synergistic effects cannot be understated," said Major Mack.

"To borrow what I've heard from the Japanese process improvement culture, 'Red is good,'" said Tom Korte, AFNIC's Deputy Director of Integration Engineering, referring to the fact that red in reports can be viewed negatively. "Rather, 'red' shows problem areas, and we shouldn't be afraid to talk about them; if we do that, nothing gets solved. AFSO21 helps us focus on issues in a non-threatening environment that brings mission owners together to find problem root causes and develop solutions."