DISA director weighs in on hot topics at AFCEA NOVA Army IT Day

By Austin Suggs / Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs
January 16, 2024

Photo illustration of DISA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner speaking with Greg Garcia during the AFCEA NOVA Army IT day event held Jan. 11, 2024.
(DISA photo by Austin Suggs, DISA illustration by Erika Alverio)


On Jan. 11, Defense Information Systems Agency Director and Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Network Commander Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner spoke at AFCEA NOVA Army IT Day in a fireside chat moderated by former Army Deputy Chief Information Officer Greg Garcia.

The conversation covered a broad array of topics, including the director’s take on staying ahead of China, the usefulness of generative AI, and whether the Department of Defense should focus more on software or hardware.

Early in the conversation, Garcia asked Skinner about DISA’s Workforce 2025 initiative, which aims to upskill current employees and attract new talent with next-generation skills. Skinner connected the initiative directly to the pacing threat of China.

“The primary strategic threat continues to be the People’s Republic of China … In order to continue to compete, to never get into conflict, we have to be more agile, we have to be more flexible, we have to have the right velocity and a sense of urgency, as well as the right critical thinking,” said Skinner. “All our Workforce 2025 is, is identifying what is that next generation capability and service that we know that we’re going to have to provide for the department and or for our mission partners. Do we have the expertise to do that? If not, how do we go get that?”
Of course, no technology conference in 2024 is complete without touching on generative AI, and AFCEA NOVA Army IT Day did not buck the trend. However, Skinner explained that despite the buzz around generative AI, it’s not the most important AI development for the DOD.

“I would offer the conversation within the department should be less on generative AI and what is happening in there, and more on the products and the capabilities and how we are leveraging AI to make them better,” said Skinner.

Finally, the three-star general shared his opinion on the perennial question of whether the DOD is primarily a software or hardware organization.

“I want to get away from owning hardware as much as I can,” said Skinner. “To be competitive and to ensure we have success, no matter where the competition, crisis or conflict, we’ve got to be more of a software organization.”
The ballroom in which the director spoke was full to capacity with representatives from the Army, industry and academia. Remarking on DISA’s relationship with the Army, Skinner said he believes it is now the best it has ever been. To industry, Skinner implored companies to focus on simplicity in their solutions and fair license pricing.

To conclude the engagement, Garcia presented Skinner with an AFCEA challenge coin.


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