The new imperative

The battlefield of the future is one in which our forces must show up software-enabled. In the modern era, however, the speed of mission is radically outpacing the speed with which software is fielded in defense programs. Software delivered in days is happening in commercial industry; yet, initial operating capability for major defense programs averages eight years. Can you think of any software that ran on your smartphone eight years ago that is relevant today? If it takes years to go from idea to IOC software in the hands of the war fighter, our military risks not being prepared for this fight.

The Department of Defense must be able to iteratively build, deploy and operate modern software at startup speed. To enable this leap, we have to reimagine how the military identifies and prioritizes user requirements, develops, tests, accredits, deploys and securely operates software. The U.S. Air Force’s Air Operations Center (AOC) program is leading the way in these efforts by delivering war-winning software on timelines measured in days, not years.

The challenge

DoD software development and deployment traditionally relies on complex, manual orchestration of low-level steps, generating a tremendous amount of repetitive work that is highly susceptible to errors.

Automation, if used at all, is typically duplicative of manual testing and ad hoc. As a result, software processes to build, test, deploy and securely operate each mission capability are custom, complex and always inconsistent, resulting in paralyzing operational complexity and chaos.

Just like in traditional commercial waterfall software development process, DoD programs manage this complexity by slowing down the release process to ensure correctness and consistency. This time delay increases accumulated risk with every software release. Consequently, teams struggle to release new functionality quickly or successfully (hence eight years to IOC) and the software delivered rarely meets the evolving operational need.

A modern application platform delivering air power

The AOC program is leveraging a modern application platform, Pivotal Cloud Foundry, to standardize, automate and streamline the common software lifecycle activities. This platform is run by a government-directed team with Raytheon operators who are delivering, for the first time ever, a globally consistent application environment across every AOC, optimized for the accelerated delivery of war-winning software. This platform spans development, testing, staging and production environments on commercial cloud networks. This Raytheon-operated platform allows the AOC to focus exclusively on the mission logic of their code, allowing them to deliver capabilities at the speed of relevance.

With a continuous fielding capability for software, daily feedback from the war fighter immediately informs a backlog that results in new software features being accredited and delivered by the end of the week. Inside the AOC, the Air Force is absolutely moving at Startup Speed and delivering lethality at the speed of relevance. The mission capabilities these war fighters received in 120 days or less span deliberate targeting, mission reporting, advanced target production, refueling operations and many more, saving over $6.4 million and 1,100 man-hours per month within the Air Force Central Command.

Modern software development

When fielding timelines span years, the accumulation of risk becomes great as systems grow in complexity and importance. Some form of rigor is needed, thus waterfall software development is the standard. Design and architecture are elaborated prior to coding, and endless controls are put in place, all in an attempt to limit the cost and risk of subsequent change.

This traditional mindset drives massive design and risk mitigation strategies on the front end of programs, which only reveal value upon fielding. In the fast-changing environment of today’s emerging threats, this simply does not work.

By working with Pivotal, the AOC program became a learning organization that adopted a fundamentally different approach to software delivery. Raytheon software engineers are co-located with Air Force personnel inside Pivotal Labs learning to work in this way, and they are delivering modern software at a speed and quality never before possible in major defense programs.

With an intense focus on user-centered design, everything the AOC does is now war fighter driven, with daily validation the software being developed is precisely what the war fighter needs.

Applying lean startup methodologies, the AOC utilizes a scientific approach to software delivery and rapidly iterates on the smallest and most valuable pieces of functionality relevant to the war fighter, thus immediately validating its merit with tight feedback loops.

Embracing agile software development processes, the AOC leverages a highly disciplined approach to software engineering called Extreme Programming (XP), to gain the benefits of test-driven development, pair programming, continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD).

Combining a modern platform for accelerated software delivery with modern software engineering techniques, Raytheon and Pivotal are proud to be mission partners of the AOC delivering modern software at startup speed to enable the war fighter.

Todd Probert is vice president of mission support and modernization at Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. Keith Salisbury is vice president of Pivotal Federal. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government. Mention of any commercial product in this paper does not imply DoD endorsement or recommendation for or against the use of any such product. No infringement on the rights of the holders of the registered trademarks is intended.