How Red Hat Satisfied Lockheed Martin’s Need for Speed on the F-22: Sponsored Content

June 1, 2019
By Shaun Waterman

Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor is one of the most advanced fighter jets on the planet—not to mention one of the fastest. But over the past few years, as other nations began to test-fly and deploy their own fifth-generation fighters, Lockheed Martin realized that its software development practices were holding it back, delivering new capabilities to the Raptor too slowly to maintain its dominance.

“Lockheed Martin recognized their model was being disrupted,” said Will Watkins, transformation lead for Red Hat’s consulting arm, the Open Innovation Labs.

Michael Cawood, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for F-16 and F-22 product development, told the Red Hat summit last month that it previously took the company two to three years just to develop a plan for a new F-22 capability—and as long as seven years to actually deliver it.

In 2017, defense officials told Lockheed Martin, “Change or be changed,” Cawood recalled.

Supersonic speed

Now, thanks to Red Hat’s agile development practices and automated software production pipeline, Lockheed Martin is able to build and deploy new capabilities for the plane at supersonic speed.

The first product to roll out of the pipeline, a new communications capability for the Raptor that Lockheed Martin plans to unveil this summer, was developed in one year, instead of the four it would have taken using the company’s traditional waterfall development process, Watkins said.

Red Hat’s engagement with Lockheed Martin began last year with a small team from each company—the size Open Innovation Labs has found optimal for agile transformation projects.

“We like to keep it to what we call a two pizza team—eight from Lockheed Martin and six from our side,” said Watkins. The cross-functional Lockheed Martin team was kept sequestered from company colleagues and management so they could “really focus on discovering what was possible” with the new agile development processes and automated software tools.


The eight week “pop-up residency” used Red Hat’s OpenShift containerized application development platform and a pipeline of automated software tools—all hosted on the AWS GovCloud—to increase the speed of software production, but also improve its reliability.

The residency ended with a presentation by the team and a live demonstration of the software product. “It showed that in a few short weeks, the team was able to move much faster than it had previous and was actually putting out a more reliable product,” said Watkins.

The next step was to build out the OpenShift infrastructure, previously based in the AWS GovCloud in Lockheed Martin’s unclassified production network, and move into what Red Hat calls the Dojo phase—a training the trainers concept in which staff who’ve already undergone the agile transformation pass on what they’ve learned.

Watkins’ own time in the military prepared him to work with Lockheed Martin. “In the U.S. Army, when I had to create an operations order, I thought I had it down to a science.” By creating “a wireframe,” assigning sections to his subordinates and giving them deadlines “with enough time for me to edit and then submit it ... I usually could pull something like that together in a couple of days or a week.”

At Red Hat, he said, “Just six people jumped in and started across cross collaborating in one document. And we created something that was almost the same amount of effort in 20 or 30 minutes.”

In the Lockheed Martin case, the company hired four facilitators specifically tasked to help transfer the skills learned during the residency out to a larger workforce, scaling out to more than 100 employees by April.

“We like to think of what we’re building as the assembly line in a trusted software factory,” said Watkins. “Our platform, the Red Hat OpenShift platform is the plumbing, the infrastructure for the factory ... [Red Hat automated tools like] Ansible Tower and Satellite [version] six provide the automation and all of it weaves together” with new agile practices to provide a swifter and more reliable process for developing new capabilities.

Automation doesn’t mean eliminating human intervention altogether, but rather lifting the burden of grunt work, leaving human developers more free to exercise judgment.

“As we identified the manual stages that were the choke points for rapid movement throughout the organization, we’re pulling them to the left in the development story and we’re automating them,” Watkins said. “There may be humans in the loop” but their role is now to review reports from the automated systems to identify issues that need developer attention.

Hardware in the air

During the Dojo phase, the Red Hatters had to grapple with an immediate challenge: hardware.

F-22 software is embedded. It runs on very special hardware. Not commodity processors designed to be churned out by the billion to power the masses’ laptops and smartphones, but boutique specialty hardware designed to fly one of the world’s most advanced fighting machines. One of the things that stretched Lockheed Martin’s traditional waterfall development timeline so badly was the need to integrate software with hardware—often requiring significant rewriting.

“In the first team, we were deploying to hardware we actually had in the room, so that made the pipeline a little bit easier,” said Watkins. Red Hat has experience working with embedded software, and applying agile methods and practices to the same, with automakers and other defense customers. Hardware dependencies “change everything,” he said.

As the transformation project scaled out through Lockheed Martin this year, the company has started to “leverage 3D printing and simulation and emulation” so as to allow developers to write code that will actually work on hardware yet to be delivered.

“We were lucky to have great experts in Lockheed Martin that have been had been thinking about this issue for a while,” he said.

The open systems architecture rack Red Hat has been building this year at Lockheed Martin will reduce the need for that kind hardware-specific development in the future, he said. The rack “allows that kind of modularity and modernization to occur.”

Once the rack is loaded on the F-22 “we’ll be able to write on top of that system. ... Rather than a bespoke or highly customized hardware rack that they may have used previously, they’re using a lot more commercial off-the-shelf [technology, like our own] enterprise Linux. And it’s giving them that portability and modularity they’re looking for with future development.”


Another challenge the agile transformation project is going to have to address is geography. As it scales out across the Lockheed Martin organization, multiple Red Hat pipelines may have to be deployed, said Watkins. “Especially as you have federated development and testing centers around the country, you will need to have multiple pipelines that push towards those manual tests and incorporate them,” he explained.

In order to “break that waterfall, systems-engineering mindset we’re going to have teams and hardware components that are distributed geographically and we’ll have to work through that in a remote fashion,” Watkins added.

But right now, the principal focus of the Red Hat team has shifted.

“Any agile transformation has to be a grassroots movement that starts with the people who actually do the work, who actually develop the code,” said Watkins. “What we’re seeing right now is that infectious enthusiasm start to bubble up through the organization as people get turned on to this opportunity to work in a new way.”

Critical mass

At a certain point, the Red Hat engagement at that grassroots level is done: “Once we get to that critical mass, we no longer have to push because it’s taken on a life of its own.”

At this point, the Red Hat team can leave infecting the next wave of agile converts to the Lockheed Martin facilitators and instead “we tend to take a step back—and up—in the organization, because the other piece of this is that it really needs strong leadership buy-in,” said Watkins.

The Red Hat team will transition to “more targeted conversations” with C-suite executives to help them “develop a vision of where they want to go in the next four to six months,” said Watkins.

“I think of it as like lead climbing,” he said. “As we go through the organization, we climb and then we get to a certain point and we put a pin it. And then we climb another 20 feet. You can fall, but only 40 feet. We’ll be able to come back and continue to move through the organization.”

At Lockheed Martin, the Dojo phase involved “literally breaking down walls and ripping apart cubicles,” according to Watkins. This transformation goes hand-in-hand with a different role for management. “There’s a much more communal aspect to the work” in agile environments, he explained, “Your leadership may not sit in a corner office, isolated from the developers, they’re actually sitting right next to them and even programming with them at times.”

Watkins said that agile transformation liberated software developers, a change symbolized for him at Lockheed Martin by one staffer dressed in a Superman T-shirt who jumped into an informal “pow-wow” with senior Air Force officials. “Somebody asked, ‘Well how can we tell that this transformation is happening?’ And a random developer who happened to be walking by ... jumped into the middle of this conversation amongst all the leadership and was like ‘I absolutely can tell you that we are transforming.’”

In his speech at the Red Hat summit, Cawood outlined the company’s objectives: “We needed to transform our own organization and how we did things. By working with the Red Hat Open Innovation Labs team, we changed everything—our toolchain, our process, and most importantly, our culture.”

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