Agile Software Development Will Be Key for the Military
Military commanders have to contend with a new cyber domain that calls for responsive, “agile” software development.
The increasing nature of computing capabilities, the number of technologies that are interconnected to the cyber world, the amount of data generated, and the speed at which data is reported are all reshaping everyday life. To harness this new dynamic, the commercial computer industry has already switched to a more agile way of developing software. More and more, the military is moving to advance the development of cyber-based infrastructure under this changing environment.
“These are really interesting times, with the broad Internet of Things, and how software has taken on a new position in our everyday lives,” says Todd Probert, vice president of mission support and modernization at Raytheon Company’s Intelligence, Information and Services division. “The dynamic of increasing computing power is creeping its way into everything, and it’s the same with the military. There really is an explosion of data within the battlespace.”
For the military, essentially it’s about three things: data, speed and interconnectivity, explains Probert. Data is coming from everywhere, from new sensors coming online to higher resolution visual information and multi-domain operations.
“Our commanders in the field are trying to contend with what to do with all this increasing data, and it is really coming down to speed,” Probert says. “Commanders on the battlefield are deciding what to make of all the data, and taking that data to a decision point, and then taking that decision point to an action. All these things are coming together to make up a huge inflection point in how we fight today’s and tomorrow’s battles.”
Gone are the old ways of developing so-called stovepipe software systems—systems that only functioned individually and did not share data or coding, with little machine-to-machine interaction.
Emerging today are software-driven changes that enable a new way of developing computer-related tools, Probert comments.
The old way of developing software, known as the “waterfall” method, involved stages of developing the concept and requirements, analysis, design, construction, testing and deployment, which could take years.
“That way doesn’t work anymore,” Probert declares.
The DOD is looking to embrace the commercial industry’s trend: open architecture construction, use of data standards, multidomain functionality, applications architecture and an overall architecture that allows for cyber resiliency. Under this method, end user requirements are adopted incrementally and decision-making is more autonomous, resulting in more rapid deployment of scalable, modular software.
“Instead of years or months or weeks to develop software or a system, we are now seeing software deployment in weeks or days or hours,” says Probert.
Raytheon is seeing this shift in its work with the U.S. Defense Department’s (DOD’s) Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), which combines intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations for joint and combined task force commanders, relates Probert. The DCGS software system enables interoperability for data/intelligence collection, processing, exploitation, dissemination and archiving.
“DCGS integrates new and emerging capabilities into an open architecture that is network agnostic and will enable seamless data management from tasking to collection to near real-time dissemination to the warfighter,” according to Raytheon.
The dynamic is what former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work characterized as the U.S. military’s “third offset” strategy—a combination of technology, operational concepts and organizational constructs—or different ways of organizing U.S. forces.
“That’s the kind of call to arms we are seeing manifest across all of the command and control and battle management infrastructures,” says Probert. “It’s about the data—and the speed you employ that data—and it's about the ability to interconnect your systems to do just that.”
The remaining challenge is “wrapped up in the installation of basic weapon systems,” says Probert. Many weapons that are in use today were developed before cyber systems were even put in use, such as the A-10 Warthog, which provides critical close-air support. The aging fleet has to be retrofitted with new agile systems, and wrapped in cybersecurity measures.