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Y2K Bug Won't Keep DoD from Performing NATO Mission

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 1999 – If you ask Rosanne Hynes whether U.S. forces in Europe will be able to execute their NATO responsibilities and overseas missions come Jan. 1, 2000, despite the millennium bug, her answer is an unequivocal "yes."

If you ask whether it was easy to reach that high level of confidence, her answer is altogether different. Hynes is the director for Y2K outreach in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. As such, she's had a key role in representing DoD's interests to ensure U.S. forces in Europe will be protected from potential Y2K failures.

The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K," refers to a past computer industry practice of writing years with just two digits -- 1999 would be "99." Because of this digital shorthand, some computer systems on Jan. 1, 2000, might treat "00" as "1900" or just shut down. Almost any computer system may be vulnerable and needs to be checked and then, if necessary, fixed to handle the year change or replaced. A computer system that recognizes the year 2000 correctly is called "compliant."

Although she says DoD's Y2K efforts with European nations during the past two years have been "frustrating" and "somewhat disappointing," Hynes characterized the past six months as a period of "tremendous progress." She credits much of the progress to the Y2K program management office at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, known as SHAPE. SHAPE is responsible for coordinating and carrying out military plans and operations within the NATO alliance.

"That's where most of the Y2K action is taking place right now," Hynes said. "The SHAPE program management office has been able to obtain agreements with key host nations to share information and help with Y2K assessments." That will help DoD identify problems that could affect military operations. Hynes called this a "a major step forward in our efforts."

Hynes said efforts until recently were "frustrating" and "somewhat disappointing" because Y2K is a more complicated issue overseas. First, Europe in general started late on Y2K repairs. More important, she said, unlike in the United States where there is a national Y2K effort, there is no coordinated plan for all of Europe.

"When we talk about NATO, we tend to talk about it as a monolith, but we're talking about 19 individual nations. The level of awareness among the nations varied quite a bit," she said. "We faced two problems -- NATO the organization and what it could legitimately require its members to do, and the Y2K status of each of the 19 individual nations."

Hynes said, while the status of weapons and command and control systems are important and have received the necessary attention, DoD's and SHAPE's primary focus now is individual nations' infrastructure, such as telecommunications; air traffic control; power, fuel and water distribution; commercial ports; and rail facilities.

The military depends on these systems for communications as well as for transporting and supplying troops. Failures in any of them could affect current operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as other operations supported by the European Command.

Additionally, Hynes said, DoD has to be concerned about service members and their families and DoD civilians who live off base.

"We can take care of the people inside the fence with back- up generators if power fails," she said. "But what about the others? Those are our people too, and they need to get to work, they need heat, they need medical care. That's why it's critical we're able to collect the information necessary to plan for any needed contingencies."

Y2K issues among NATO countries are further complicated by the fact that power grids cross national boundaries. Germany, for example, gets 30 percent of its natural gas from Russia. "So if we don't know for certain that Russia's systems are Y2K compliant, it's hard for us to determine whether Germany is going to receive its needed supply," she said.

Although the finance industry is graded by some experts as the one most ready for Y2K, Hynes said even it is being looked at with great scrutiny in Europe.

"Someone made a joke at a NATO Y2K update about pay and finance, saying you're not going to stop a war because of a pay problem. Quite frankly, yes, you can," Hynes related. "If you look at SFOR and KFOR, everything that can be contracted out has been. The contractors aren't going to supply you for free. So yes, the money has to show up."

Throughout the rest of this year, the NATO Y2K effort will be on obtaining accurate, up-to-date information about the Y2K status of the individual NATO member nations. As Hynes quickly pointed out, if Y2K efforts are not already well under way, it's getting too late to start testing systems and then fixing or replacing them.

"We're not looking for guarantees that things will work," she said. "We're looking for the best information available so we can plan accordingly." And Hynes is confident the processes now in place throughout NATO and SHAPE will provide the information needed for U.S. forces to carry out all missions and contingency plans.

Whether NATO will be ready for Y2K is really a three-part question, Hynes said. Part 1 is, "Will the United States be able to execute its part of the NATO mission?" "The answer to that is an unequivocal yes," she said.

The second part is, "Will the remaining 18 member nations be able to play their parts in supporting the NATO mission?" Hynes is less firm here, but she is optimistic most major repairs and contingency plans will be in place before the end of the year.

The third part is, "Can SHAPE continue to execute its missions in Bosnia, the Balkans and elsewhere?" "My answer is yes," Hynes said. "SHAPE will be able to do that because its Y2K program management office is working hard not only to get the best information available, but to develop contingency plans to handle any Y2K problems that might arise. They've taken charge and are moving forward."

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Confronting Y2K


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