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New strategy to accelerate technology development in the context of digital transformation

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is rolling out a strategy focused on artificial intelligence software, data, and practices, a move officials say will clarify for industry what the service needs to transform into a digital and cutting-edge force. how, exactly, he plans to get there.

The strategy, which will be unveiled at the Association of the American Army’s annual conference, aims to help “pivot our programs to embrace modern software practices, embrace data centrality, and bring us to artificial intelligence.” , machine learning and [figuring] figure out where the right apps are so we can really empower commanders in the field to make fast, data-driven decisions,” said Jennifer Swanson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Data Engineering and software, to Defense News in an interview. before the event.

Swanson’s title alone alludes to the ongoing transformation of the Army’s acquisition arm. When she was hired earlier this year, she was the chief systems engineer.

The strategy comes as the military conducts a massive overhaul of its virtual footprint and IT infrastructure to better prepare for potential conflicts with China and Russia. These foreign powers — the two most pressing threats to national security, according to a brief summary of the latest National Defense Strategy — are investing significantly in military science and technology.

In a way, the new strategy takes what the industry does well and applies those best practices. Swanson said the military is already doing some of this, but it needs to be done on a larger scale.

The old way of software development started with the requirements developers stating what they wanted, then the software development community, usually through contract, took over to create something to satisfy the requirements. . By the time the Army developed a solution years later, the software was not working well in the systems it was originally designed for.

Now the industry follows “agile software development,” Swanson said, which means requirements developers, testers and cyber experts are all part of the development team. Working from a statement of requirements, the group begins coding in a sprint, which takes several weeks. Then the requirements developers review it to see if it actually hits the target.

At the same time, as the software is being developed, it may go through an automated pipeline for testing and cyber-analysis to check for vulnerabilities.

The idea is that the value of a few sprints of code equates to a minimum viable product, Swanson said, “which is actually a delivery that you can start putting capabilities into the hands of users.” This can reduce development time to weeks and months, rather than years.

An indicator of strategy implementation will be the presence of modern software practices in outgoing RFPs. “We want good solutions, and we want companies that can do it and can be nimble with us,” Swanson said, “so that as the requirements change, they can scale the solution.”

Part of the transformation strategy includes what the military calls data centrality — making information available to the right people “and not locking it into systems,” Swanson explained.

“We have a lot of data locked in systems that users can’t access, and so that really means exposing it, making it available with some kind of identity management,” she added.

The Army’s acquisition branch is developing a data mesh reference architecture as part of the strategy, Swanson noted, which “is kind of a new concept.” And while the military will continue to use data fabrics, “the data mesh will federate these fabrics.”

The data mesh reference architecture will “simplify the architecture,” she added. “Today we have a very hierarchical and complicated architecture.”

The bigger picture

Part of the reason the digital transformation strategy is taking shape now is thanks to Young Bang, the deputy head of acquisitions, who was hired earlier this year. Bang brings with him an immense amount of technical know-how from industry as well as experience within the military and its institutions.

“The data mesh was his idea,” Swanson said. “He was almost instantly able to step in and apply his technical expertise to what we’re doing and what we need to do, figure out where the gaps are and come up with solutions.”

Clean, abundant data is increasingly the lifeblood of U.S. military efforts, especially as the services work to realize the Pentagon’s Joint Command and Control vision of seamless coordination on land, air, sea. , space and cyberspace.

The Army’s contribution to JADC2 is Project Convergence, a week-long evaluation of state-of-the-art kit under demanding conditions. This year, the service plans to test artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities as well as systems that transfer data quickly.

The event, beginning in October and ending in November, should provide lessons learned for both the battlefield and headquarters.

“If there are things coming out of Project Convergence that indicate there’s a better way, a different way, another way, we’ll take all of that into consideration,” Swanson said. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to see, from an integration perspective, how it all works. We’re absolutely going to build on that and whatever else we can learn.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering ground warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in Journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networking, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely the Cold War cleanup and the development of nuclear weapons — for a South Carolina daily. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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