A simple user agreement is changing how the Air Force looks at software

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Last month, Air Combat Command (ACC) and Kessel Run did something many people do every day when they download an app or join an online service — they signed a user agreement.

That legal handshake of a task may seem mundane to most, but for the Air Force it opened up a new world of software development that could revolutionize ACC’s programs.

The agreement formalized a relationship between the two organizations, allowing Kessel Run to constantly and consistently update software instead of going through a laborious acquisition process. In essence, the agreement allows for DevSecOps on ACC software.

Kessel Run is the Air Force’s software factory focused on air operations and command and control.

“It’s a break from the traditional acquisitions process of where you sit down and you spend maybe years writing requirements and it takes a long time before you even start building anything,” Jacque Torson, Kessel Run’s test and integration chief, told Federal News Network. “It gives us access to the users themselves very early in the design phases. It also gives us access to their primary stakeholders and ACC. It allows them to be an integral part of the design from the very beginning. It doesn’t stop there, they don’t just provide input on the design at the beginning, they are there every step of the way as their users are using whatever capability we can push out the door as fast as we can do it and providing feedback constantly.”

The constant feedback allows Kessel Run to push out software patches when bugs happen, extra security for vulnerabilities and add new features.

The agreement is much like what civilian consumers are used to seeing on their phones — apps that are dynamic and change based on the needs of the user and the app manager.

“That feedback instead of profit margins, really the feedback comes from the users themselves,” Torson said. “Their adoption of the software is really how we are measuring success. If we’re pushing out something and the users are like, ‘I’m not going to touch that I’m not going to use it,’ then we are on the wrong path.”

Kessel Run has liaison teams, testers and uses analytics to get feedback from its users. The goal is to have a constant feedback loop between those working with the software and the developers, and then updating in increments.

The new process is made possible through the Pentagon’s software acquisition pathway, part of the Adaptive Acquisition Framework.

That model breaks defense acquisitions into different pathways that run on the timetables best suited for the good.

The Defense Acquisition University states that the software acquisition path’s “objective is to facilitate rapid and iterative delivery of software capability to the user. This pathway integrates modern software development practice such as agile software development, DevSecOps, and lean practices.”

Torson said Kessel Run is working on expanding the model throughout ACC.

“I think the biggest area of focus is getting updates to the operational test policies and guidance and things like that,” Torson said. “Our philosophy here is that with these small increments, with these small frequent deliveries of capability we don’t have to stop it and test it or verify or validate it. The operational test community is still saying, ‘No, you still need to stop and validate’. So, we’re trying to work that out right now and reconcile how can we incorporate those operational effectiveness evaluations into what we’re doing, but in a continuous way.”

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