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Cohen Says DoD on Track to Squash the Millennium Bug

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 22, 1999 – Defense Secretary William Cohen said he "is very confident" the Defense Department will be able to carry out its missions when 1999 becomes the Year 2000.

During a July 22 Pentagon briefing addressing DoD's progress on stamping out Y2K problems, Cohen said more than 92 percent of DoD's 2,107 mission-critical systems are Y2K- compliant; 94 percent of the 4,749 nonmission-critical systems are fixed and implemented; and over 99 percent of DoD's 637 installations are compliant. He said those figures will be 100 per cent across the board by Dec. 31.

Total DoD costs for Y2K repairs is estimated at $3.7 billion. Mission-critical systems are those considered essential for carrying out warfighting capabilities.

The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K" and the "millennium bug," refers to a past computer industry practice of programming years with just two digits -- 1999 would "99." This shorthand means some computer systems and equipment on Jan. 1, 2000, might read "00" as "1900." The error could generate inaccurate data or even cause systems to shut down. Systems that won't handle the year change correctly must be fixed or replaced; those that will work correctly are called Y2K-compliant.

The secretary said DoD has progressed rapidly in making Y2K repairs because it treated the Year 2000 problem "as if it were a cyber attack" against the military. "In this sense, Y2K is an enemy attack of the rarest kind," Cohen said. "We know the time of his planned attack, we know the place, we know the consequences and we know we have absolutely no excuse not to prepare."

DoD is the largest user of computers in the world and is responsible for one-half of all federal computer systems and one-third of all mission-critical computer systems in the federal government.

Cohen said DoD has been extensively testing Y2K repairs and will continue to do so throughout the year. As examples of DoD's commitment to defeating the millennium bug, he cited the Navy's two-week-long Y2K test last spring involving the aircraft carrier USS Constellation and its 13-ship battle group and the recent test of logistics systems which ended this month.

He pointed out that the logistics test was DoD’s largest Y2K test ever involving all the services, the Defense Logistics Agency, more than 1,000 people, and systems spread out over 22 locations. Only one Y2K failure occurred, and it has since been repaired, he noted.

Cohen also provided reassurance that DoD will be prepared to provide assistance to civilian communities and that the department's nuclear assets not be affected by the Year 2000 date change.

He said "clear parameters" are being developed for military support for any potential domestic problems or disruption of services, emphasizing that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would prioritize response efforts, just as it does during all domestic emergencies.

Despite the fact Russia has not yet agreed to participate, Cohen said work continues on a joint U.S-Russian command center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The center, to be called the Y2K Center for Strategic Stability, is designed to ensure that Y2K information systems glitches are not interpreted as an attack and to reduce the risk of a nuclear launch based on inaccurate data. The secretary said he expects to gain Russian agreement to participate later this year.

Cohen was joined by Adm. Richard W. Mies, commander, U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of DoD's nuclear weapons. Mies said his command has "high confidence that nuclear command and control systems are ready for the Year 2000 transition and that fears of accidental nuclear launches are unfounded.

"I want to make it clear there is no risk of an accidental launch," he said. "Procedures for launching our nation's nuclear weapons involve multiple levels of safeguards, such as code verification and human interactions to authenticate an order from the president. Computers, by themselves, cannot launch nuclear weapons."

Mies said that of the 198 computer systems deemed mission- critical to U.S. nuclear missions, all but two have been verified as Y2K-compliant, and those two are expected to be verified by this fall.

Cohen characterized DoD's Y2K progress during the past year as "a remarkable effort by some very talented people."

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