Military Software Is 'Next Great Frontier'

By Maj. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford

Photo: Defense Dept.

Key to our nation’s security and defense is an Army that is second to none. A posture that speaks to the strategic importance of materiel readiness as it affects every one of our Army’s operational tenants — flexibility, integration, lethality, adaptability, depth and synchronization. At the end of the day, well-resourced, well-trained and well-equipped soldiers are at the core of the Army’s ability to meet the needs of the combatant commanders. 

Having said this, a critical part of future success has to be a close examination of legacy processes that produce the very capabilities on which we will depend. 

Last October, in an article “The Changing Character of Warfare,” Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley shared that “we have new insights into the character of future conflict, and we have had glimpses of what our Army and its soldiers must be ready to do in the coming decade. Shifts in the character of war offer an opportunity: if we can anticipate or at least recognize them, we can adapt proactively, maintaining or regaining overmatch and forcing competitors to react to us.”

When it comes to the materiel enterprise, near the very top of the list of legacy processes that must be “closely examined,” adapted and proactively optimized is the current manner in which we develop and sustain weapon system platforms, network and enterprise business system software.

Over the past 15 years, the exponential growth in the software environment  — pace, size, complexity and costs — has the potential to negatively impact current and future Army warfighting functions — such as mission command, movement and maneuver, intelligence, fires, sustainment and protection — at every echelon in our formations.

Absent institutional change, current legacy software development and sustainment processes will continue to induce risks into the Army’s ability to modernize, sustain and protect weapon systems and critical enterprise business applications. It is for these reasons that in the context of improving readiness of our formations and increasing the capacity of our weapon systems, I consider the software environment to be “the next great frontier.”

As a subordinate organization under Army Materiel Command, the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command Life Cycle Management Command, is currently charged with the responsibility of informing development and executing the sustainment of approximately 70 percent of the Army’s software. After 34 months in this position, I’m of the opinion that, right now, given the right framework, we have a tremendous opportunity to optimize the development, sustainment and eventual output of the software environment. That would reduce cost, decrease complexity, enhance cybersecurity and improve weapon system readiness.

Virtually every aspect of the enterprise has a software dependent capability  — our  weapons, communications and resourcing. It would be hard to find a single, mission-essential function in any command, that doesn’t depend on software in some shape, form or fashion. In short, software can be a critical enabler to increasing the lethality within warfighting formations, yet the vast majority of the processes and associated policy remains focused on the hardware of the enterprise.

To quote Gen. Gus Perna, commanding general of Army Materiel Command, “Readiness is the Army’s number one priority and materiel readiness is the reason AMC exists.” The pace of software changes, the fiscal unsustainability of current processes and the evolving nature of hybrid threats mandate a thorough evaluation and assessment of current processes and posture.

Success in austere and contested environments requires strength in partnership between government, industry and academia to collaboratively address this next great frontier and how software will impact innovation, the ability to adapt and rapidly integrate technology onto existing weapons platforms, and the overall modernization strategy.

The fundamental question is, are we optimized Army-wide to — in the words of the commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command — “thrive in the rapidly evolving future environment?” It includes cyber electromagnetic activities, policy, development, synchronization, integration and sustainment.  That also involves the need for fundamental change in how and what we think about software as a critical enabler to materiel readiness. 

In an effort to create a framework that could inform a future direction, AMC/CECOM have hosted two collaboration opportunities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, called Software Solariums, designed to create unity of effort across the Army in the software environment.

 Although there are many productive efforts across the Army to get after the challenges associated with the software environment, we lack the ability to see ourselves; additionally that a more unified approach is required. 

Among the outputs of the recent Software Solarium were recommendations on a way ahead to create unity of effort, using the following lines of effort.

The first is how to enable more defensible weapon system platforms, applications and networks, and close the institutional gap that exists between the legacy software development and sustainment processes across a rapidly growing cyber enterprise. This effort also involves fully automating the ability to patch tactical weapon systems and better synchronization and integration of software assurance and acquisition lifecycle activities.

Another line of effort is: How do we drive Army-wide efficiencies in the software lifecycle to dramatically improve readiness while reducing costs, risks and complexity?

Also, how do we optimize enterprise Army software development and sustainment oversight and policy? Given the importance of software to Army modernization, it may be time for a discussion about the need for a functional Army software center of excellence. 

A fourth line of effort is setting the conditions for the development of the optimal government-contractor workforce. Today, the workforce is 85 percent contracted, based largely on pre-9/11 assumptions. 

The fundamental question here is, given the evolution of the current pacing threats and the growth and complexity of software, are there skill sets that “should be” important enough to develop some government capacity? A good answer here not only provides more agility and flexibility for the government but also increases predictability for industry partners who provide software development and sustainment as a service.

I’m often asked if there’s one responsibility of my position as the CECOM commander that keeps me awake at night. Other than protecting the 23,000 soldiers, civilians and families of the three installations that make up Aberdeen Proving Ground, my honest answer is the growing potential for missed opportunities. That on my watch, I missed an opportunity to, in the chief of staff’s words, “anticipate so that we can adapt” the command’s materiel enterprise appropriately to enable the Army’s ability to conduct combined arms maneuver and wide area security against the rapidly evolving hybrid threats.

I wholeheartedly believe that when someone decides to sit down and put pen to paper on the overarching contributions of the last 20 years, near the very top of that list will be the evolution of technology and innovation, all driven by the exponential growth in the software environment. 

Key and critical to institutional change is unity of effort in overcoming the challenges of the next great frontier.

Maj. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford is commanding general, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command and senior commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Topics: Defensive, Network defense, Cyber, Emerging Technologies, Infotech, Information Technology