In an interview with Defense News last December, Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, discussed her 2019 goals to simplify, streamline and accelerate the acquisition process. Among these goals, better software development is viewed as something that will help the Department achieve business reform and deliver capability at the speed of relevance. "The thread that runs through all of our programs and all that we do is software and I believe that we need to catch up with the private sector and make sure we are using contemporary software development processes,” said Lord during the dialogue.
Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, also addressed this topic during a conversation with reporters in May 2018, stating, on a modern battlefield and future war "we could be changing software every day as a necessary factor for winning. Software will be the delineator."
The Defense Innovation Board, held a roundtable to discuss the Department of Defense's (DoD) weapon software delivery challenges and explored ways the DoD can “shift left” and optimize the long-tail of weapons software certification on a wide array of applications including: weapons safety, flight safety, nuclear surety and cybersecurity. This optimization will be key to accelerating the production of software-based capabilities for weapon systems and the Warfighter.
For cloud-native systems and applications, digital product delivery, commercial software practices and modern architectures (e.g. containerization and micro-services) are used to continuously deliver and deploy new releases, features and fixes at a relentless pace. In industry, any given product line might release new features every half-hour, or less. Across all products and services, industrial software factories are releasing new code in periods marked by seconds and total annual deployments in the tens of millions. Darwinian market forces have led startups and large-market capitalizations alike to adopt Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Site Reliability Engineering, Chaos Engineering, Agile and DevSecOps to achieve security, reliability and speed in digital product delivery.
The DoD is challenged in rapidly delivering ultra-large scale, complex software systems across the full spectrum of fighting domains. How can the Department accelerate software delivery and adoption of these private sector practices across its complete portfolio?
Although certain application domains (e.g., Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance or C4ISR) have an obvious affinity for rapid deployment cycles, we must also confront the unique needs of weapon system developers – where software is a subsystem on a program with cyber-physical dependencies and interfaces (e.g., fighter jets, ballistic missiles and radars). In these cases, which comprise the largest portion of the major acquisition portfolio, there may be an inherent limit to the fidelity of integration labs or the types of continuous end-to-end testing that is possible. This includes cost-prohibitive flight and live-fire testing. For example, it may not be possible to fully simulate and lab test a multi-jet fight and mission thread that involves multi-sensor, multi-platform data fusion and weapons cueing. Generally, complex scenarios and systems that put lives at risk must be tested in operation.
These complex weapon systems and platforms must synchronize software and hardware requirements/schedules, and require a lengthy certification and testing tail for safety-critical, real-time, embedded system software. A great example of application diversity and large-scale software integration in a modern weapon system, is the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon Multimission Maritime Aircraft. It has a complex mix of software application types that drive the platform’s varied functions, including: flight-safety avionics, safety-critical weapons deployment and C4ISR mission systems software.
Marc Andressen famously noted, “software is eating the world,” and this is especially true on the modern battlefield. As our world becomes increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous -- the DOD must have an ability to rapidly respond to frequently changing adversary threats. To meet this challenge, it is critical that DoD develop capability for secure, reliable, rapid and continuous software delivery across the entire enterprise and in every fighting domain.
[Related Video: Software is Never Done - DoD Software Acquisition and Practices Reform]
[Related Video: Changing Software Acquisition in DoD - Roundtable with the Defense Innovation Board]
The Defense Innovation Board was tasked by Congress and the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study on how to improve software acquisition and development in DoD. The board's preliminary recommendations are publicly available and feedback is encouraged ahead of the report’s delivery to the Secretary of Defense, and in-turn, Congress, in the April-May timeframe. Please contact Sean Brady, DAU learning director for software acquisition, at firstname.lastname@example.org, with lessons learned and success stories to potentially share across the services and help the Department scale best practices.