"Not Responding." "Cannot open file." "Error." "Version not compatible with current software."
These minor annoyances in today's digital world can have life or death consequences for service members in a combat zone.
When a seemingly incalculable number of Army systems rely on software, maintaining that software effectively can mean the difference between defeating the adversary and potentially being defeated.
According to the Army's Chief Information Officer/G6 Lt. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford, software is the "next greatest frontier," and navigating that frontier was the focus for Crawford and Army experts in software development, acquisition and sustainment who converged at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, May 22-23, during Software Solarium 3.
Now in its third year, Software Solarium is hosted by the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), and brings together key stakeholders, leaders and thinkers to improve software oversight, governance and policy to enable Army readiness.
More than 190 people participated, including representatives from the U..S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC; Army Forces Command, or FORSCOM; Army Cyber Command, or ARCYBER; Army Materiel Command, or AMC; and Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), or ASA(ALT).
During his keynote address, Crawford spoke to the fact that virtually every system in the Army relies on software, and that this software must be developed or acquired, updated, integrated, secured and maintained, in quick succession, to support the user.
"I believe that we are literally in the midst of the largest modernization of our networks," he said.
"And that's all of our networks, from the tactical to the enterprise to the business to the intelligence systems in the last 30 years."
Crawford said the Army must educate its leadership on software issues, as it is now in a stage of "perpetual innovation."
"There is no point that we are going to reach, that we are no longer looking to modernize," he said.
"Software for the Soldier"
CECOM and APG Senior Commander Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor explained that proper software management is key to the Army's #1 priority: Readiness.
According to Taylor, before the first Software Solarium, in 2016, there was no single entity in the Army for enterprise management of software.
"Software has become both a critically important element to readiness and a critically under-managed element of our capability portfolio," Taylor said. "Cohesive software management is a necessary enabler to maintaining overmatch in the multi-domain battle."
Taylor spoke to the rising cost of software across the Army, and how that impacts sustainment efforts and ultimately the Army's overall readiness. According to Taylor, more emphasis must be placed on establishing software considerations upfront in the lifecycle process.
"We've got to be more holistic on how we approach this, especially when you consider that we, the U.S. taxpayer, spend 55 to 70 percent of a program's lifecycle on that post-acquisition and post-operations sustainment. That's a pretty big bill," he said.
Taylor discussed the need for balance when sustaining hardware and software over time.
"When the Army gives us money to sustain a system, it doesn't say 'spend so much of this on hardware, spend so much on software.' [The Army] just says sustain the system," he said. "So we've got to keep those two in balance and that is a part, just a part, of what today is about."
Taylor challenged Solarium attendees to share ideas and network during the event, but more importantly to continue the conversation when they go back to their organizations.
"I want to keep building the momentum that we started two years ago," he said, adding that the Software Solarium is a vital forum for discussing "software for the Soldier."
"What we do, and our contribution really relates to lives on the battlefield," he said.
These contributions are so vital, that the Army is studying government and industry best practices for software procurement, development and sustainment through the Army Science Board, explained Tony Munson, a strategic analyst assigned to the Army CIO/G6.
The Army Science Board will assess whether these approaches, as they currently exist, could be adopted or adapted by the Army. A briefing with findings and recommendations will be provided to the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff in September.
"The key question to address is how the Army should achieve unity of effort in the development and sustainment of its software enterprise, including business, enterprise, intelligence and warfighting systems," Munson said.
Software Solarium 3
Progress made from previous Software Solarium events was highlighted by CECOM Software Engineering Center Director Jennifer Zbozny. Since Software Solarium 2, in 2017, Zbozny said three recommendations were implemented:
◾The adoption of electronic patch management for tactical systems across our formation;
◾An enduring automated patching solution for all programs of record (PORs) codified by a TRADOC requirement; and
◾Establishing a goal of having no more than two fielded software baselines at any one time for all PORs.
Day one of the two-day event featured presentations by subject matter experts from the Navy and Air Force, as well Microsoft, Booz Allen Hamilton, Shipcom Wireless, ManTech, NCI, and CACI. Day two centered on recommendations to address four key discussion topics.
Topic one addressed improvements to the commercial-off-the-shelf software acquisition processes to more effectively leverage the Army's enormous buying power. The second topic addressed improvements to the Risk Management Framework to identify the tools, processes, and procedures needed to enable readiness to obtain a three-year Authority to Operate. Topic three centered on drivers to depict, characterize, and measure software readiness. Providing a complete readiness picture that includes both hardware and software enables the prioritization of software sustainment resources based on impact. Topic four was a capstone to the event and laid out short-, mid-, and long-term objectives for optimizing software policy and governance across the Army enterprise.
In the coming months, CECOM will coordinate with Solarium stakeholders to finalize the recommendations which will be submitted to the Army level Information Technology Oversight Council for approval and implementation.
Zbozny said she appreciated the effort of the participants. This year, she said, topics and lead organizations were selected in advance. These lead organizations formed working groups which included key stakeholders to analyze the topic and recommend solutions.
"I think this was really effective," she said, adding that next year's Solarium topics will be open to the suggestion of participants.