F-35 Fighter Program Recruits Small Business Innovators
Officials want agile software development in days, not decades.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is seeking small businesses and startups capable of developing a variety of technologies in days to meet the aircraft’s immediate needs.
Vice Adm. Mathias Winter, USN, Joint Strike Fighter program director within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said he intends to define those immediate needs in May to innovative entrepreneurs during the Air Force’s Pitch Day. “I’m going to lay out the number of immediate—not near-term—immediate requirements that I want startups and small businesses to help me with,” Adm. Winter reported during a panel at the AFCEA-USNI West Conference in San Diego. “In July, I’m going to pick 20. Those 20 are going to come in, they’re going to pitch it, I’m going to give them a contract that day, and the contract length is going to be one page. I’m going to give them money the same day, and they’re going to go work on that immediate requirement. They’re going to have a 30-, 60-, 90-day deliverable.”
Those immediate needs include an array of technologies. “We’re going to be able to bring on electronic warfare, avionics, fiber optic technologies, advanced propulsion technologies for better performance of the aircraft, better algorithmic phenomenology and computing power for our maintenance systems, our training systems and our planning systems,” the admiral offered.
The program already has seen some successes with small businesses and innovative contracting efforts, including the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. “We have hundreds of initiatives broken out across our three lines of effort of development, production and sustainment. We’re looking at warfighter capability and business practices to make our production lines more efficient while also getting capability to new technologies in our warfighters' hands,” he added.
About two years ago, the program rolled out the Continuous Capability Development and Delivery (C2D2) methodology, which the admiral described as “a true shift in the way the department does at-scale for large weapon systems.” The C2D2 concept focuses on four pillars. “One was we really needed to get to model-based systems engineering. We really needed to get to true capability-based testing. We needed to pull out the compliancy of contracting and be more agile, and we had to figure out how to better estimate the resources to actually do agile-based software and hardware delivery at speed, at scale for our warfighter.”
In a brief exchange following his panel presentation, Adm. Winter told SIGNAL Magazine the program is working with the Air Force’s Kessel Run office, which specializes in agile software development, essentially allowing technology to be fielded much faster. “We are in a run, sprint, accelerate. I don’t crawl. Crawl, walk, run gives our workforce an opportunity to go slow, and we need to keep that sense of urgency.”
He describes the F-35 as an air system. “The F-35 air system is not just an airplane. We have software in that airplane called an operational flight program. We also, under the umbrella of this program office, have the responsibility to develop, deliver and sustain the intelligence systems, the maintenance systems, the planning systems and the training systems that couples together that warfighting capability to our warfighting services and our international partners.”