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DoD Conducts Largest Y2K Test Ever

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

FAIRFAX, Va., July 14, 1999 – For additional information concerning Y2K, visit the Department of Defense Y2K web site.

It was actually July 13, 1999. But as far as the Pentagon was concerned the date was March 4, 2000, as DoD was wrapping up a test of the military's logistical systems in what was billed as the largest Year 2000 test ever conducted.

The test involved more than 1,000 civilian and military personnel and DoD's 44 most critical logistics systems, spread out over 22 locations. It was designed to ensure Year 2000 problems will not prevent delivery of supplies to troops as the millennium approaches.

The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K" and "millennium bug," refers to a past computer industry practice of programming years with just two digits -- 1999 would be "99." The shorthand means some computer systems and equipment on Jan. 1, 2000, might read "00" as "1900." The error could generate more inaccurate data and 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."

Test participants included the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Information Systems Agency, the U.S. Transportation Command and all four services. The Joint Interoperability Test Command provided independent verification and validation of the tests.

The 44 systems tested conduct about $80 billion worth of DoD business annually, said Zach Goldstein, DoD's director of logistics information systems. He said they process over 2.5 billion transactions -- by some estimates, twice the electronic commerce conducted on the Internet by the rest of the entire country last year.

Goldstein said testing was vital because the systems support almost 2 million service members and civilian employees by processing requests for almost everything from buttons to bullets, from food to spare parts. If service members use it, shoot it, eat it or wear it, chances are it's ordered through the complex networks of computer systems tested July 13, he said.

During the tests, technical experts built a duplicate network often referred to as a "parallel processing environment." Then they rolled their computer clocks forward to simulate the week following Feb. 28, 2000.

Feb. 28 through March 1, 2000, are key Y2K dates because many computer programs were not written to recognize 2000 as a leap year. DoD has already successfully tested the systems for other key Y2K dates, such as the fiscal year rollover on Oct. 1, 1999, and the millennium change itself.

Goldstein called the tests the culmination of more than seven months of identifying problems, analyzing them and fixing the individual systems. "Now we're seeing how the systems work together, because that's how we do military operations," he said. Analysts were watching whether the systems communicated correctly during the date changes and whether they produced accurate information in their final data bases.

Although all results will not be in until late July, only a few minor glitches have occurred thus far. In two cases, the year on some supply requests incorrectly read the year 2000 as 100, and, in another instance, a system failed to recognize Feb. 29, 2000. Goldstein said those would be easily fixed problems.

"The key is to know they exist so we can fix them now," he said.

"We feel very confident, based on what we've seen here and what we've demonstrated, that we've got a system that works and works well," said Roger Kallock, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics. Despite all the efforts by DoD, however, Y2K still could pose some undetected minor glitches, he warned.

Y2K is a first-time problem not only for DoD, but the entire world, Kallock said. "We don't know what we don't know, so there could be some surprises down the road," he said. "I think, however, that we will be prepared to handle situations in a way that's unparalleled as result of the effort being given to Y2K."

John Koskinen, chairman of President Clinton's Year 2000 commission, praised the DoD effort as "the ultimate in testing" and said the results have far-reaching consequences.

"The outcome for the Defense Department is that logistics services, which support American war fighters, are in fact on their way to completion, not only internally, but across all the services, Koskinen said. "Beyond that, it demonstrates no matter how large or complicated the system is, if you pay enough attention to them and do the work, you can in fact complete the (Y2K remediation) process."

DoD will release results of the testing by the end of July.

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