In the months following the release of the Department of Defense’s software modernization strategy, federal agencies and military service branches have zeroed in on their software processes in efforts to drastically accelerate software delivery.
These efforts have posed unique challenges to the U.S. Navy, whose geographically widespread fleet and warfighter base make it difficult to achieve enterprise-wide modernization.
Captain Brian Phillips, integrated combat systems major program manager for the Department of the Navy, said the Defense Department’s software directive has forced the Navy to step back and reexamine its strategy for coupling hardware and software on its fleet.
“One of our unique challenges is that warships are quite large and we have very large infrastructure onboard those ships that are tightly coupled to the software,” Capt. Phillips said in a panel discussion during the Defense Software Modernization Forum hosted by ExecutiveBiz Events. “Due to operational requirements, it was always really hard to get to our user base,” he shared.
As the Navy moves toward a more holistic approach to software, Capt. Phillips said the service is focusing on a Venn diagram comprised of culture, business processes and technology, and placing emphasis on how those components interact with each other.
Edward Zick, senior program analyst for the DOD, said the process piece of this equation is key. He explained that modernizing and evolving processes will help to facilitate quicker, more efficient capabilities at the speed of need.
But some federal officials are looking at the cultural aspect as the highest priority because it serves as the foundation upon which business processes and technology can build.
“We have to be deliberate and prioritize culture,” said Lt. Cody Paul, agile space operations manager for the U.S. Space Force’s software factory, Space CAMP.
“A lot of the time technology isn’t the issue, it’s culture,” he explained. “We have to put our egos aside, break down silos and value delivery of capabilities to our war fighters.”
The Space Force is improving its culture by deliberately investing in its people. The service’s Supra Coders initiative puts organically talented guardians through a three-month “boot camp” where they learn full stack development and hone their skills; then, guardians are sent to software factories to gain real world software development experience.
“We’re already seeing the return on investment as we assign our Supra Coders to their respective Deltas and give our Delta commanders force multipliers that are extending their experiences to real world operations,” Lt. Paul shared.
Part of this emphasis on culture and people also extends to the soldiers who will be using the software operationally.
“It’s very much about meeting soldiers where they are,” explained Lt. Col. Vito Errico, director of the U.S. Army software factory in Austin, Texas.
The Army’s software factories are concentrating on “soldier-centered design, user-centered design, and then also mitigating that with a fairly conventional approach to security,” he said.
Lt. Col. Errico said his software factory’s approach to modernization included building a construct that was easily understandable not only by its software developers and those within that esoteric ecosystem, but also by other Army personnel who don’t necessarily have that same knowledge base.
“People sort of got comfortable with how we were operating, and that enabled us to get to the soldiers faster,” he commented.
And in the Defense Department’s software modernization strategy, speed is key. The document, published in February 2022, outlines how the department aims to transform software delivery times from “years to minutes.”
Matthew Huston, chief information security officer for the DOD’s Platform One, said during his time as an Air Force programmer, working through an authorization process could take as long as a year.
However, as the service began moving towards a DevSecOps model, Huston found he was able to prioritize speed and enhancements simultaneously by moving its scanners up in the software development process.
“What we wanted to do was implement scanners while the code was being written and then bring that all up front to the developers,” he described. “So that way they could solve the security issues prior to even submitting for authorization.”
Now, Huston said, “We went from a 12-month cycle and we’ve been able to push an application in as little as two weeks.”
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