Insight by CACI

The three-legged stool- a model for DoD modernization

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Glenn Kurowski, Chief Technology Officer, CACI

The Defense Department has long stated a desire to move away from monolithic, proprietary systems that are difficult to evolve and expensive to maintain. Strategies like the Navy’s Project Overmatch must align to embrace software development at scale. To maintain maritime dominance in the face of advanced threats from near-peer adversaries, leaders must focus on driving that software development to take on new characteristics. These are what CACI Chief Technology Officer Glenn Kurowski refers to as the three-legged stool of software development modernization: open, modern architecture; agile software development at scale; and fully embracing a DevSecOps platform like GitLab.

The key to open, modern architecture is the modularity and openness it brings using microservices, message buses and abstraction layers. DoD systems tend to be complex and support high consequence missions. Take, for instance, electronic warfare or signals intelligence (SIGINT). Complex signals must be collected, processed, identified, interpreted and countered to provide the best intelligence for warfighters making decisions in contested environments. These are independent processes that require dynamic resource management. They require a heterogeneous processing environment, artificial intelligence enhanced signal analysis, low latency to support electronic attack, and must be able to evolve rapidly and continuously.

“Those characteristics of software development are key, as are a commitment to open interface control documents and published open APIs,” Kurowski said. “Because if we do all of that, we get the modularity that we need. We enable third parties to innovate at the speed of relevance and we can quickly upgrade systems because we’ve eliminated rigid ties to underlying hardware. Typically, over time, a DoD system decreases in frequency of capability updates and increases in O&M cost. We’re flipping that equation, actually enabling increases in the frequency of capability updates and decreasing O&M cost.”

This software-defined-everything model, delivered through a more open-hosting platform approach, provides a system capable of changing mission quickly, via software, without expensive hardware changes. And it enables more rapid software development of capability and the application of new techniques like machine learning to traditional digital signal processing. As the Navy looks to establish advantage, open architectures are the foundation for integrating networks, for automation, and for new tools that share intelligence and enhance information warfare.

The second leg of the stool, agile software development at scale, provides capability velocity.

“This isn’t new for CACI – we already implement agile software development at scale on some of the U.S. government’s largest agile implementations,” said Kurowski.

These programs involve hundreds of applications and interfaces being developed in parallel and fully instrumented. Agile at scale gets everyone involved early with clear definitions of functionality, creating trust among various collaborative teams.

“Implementing agile at scale gives us confidence that what we produce on a continual basis, on a continual velocity of code delivery, are elements that the warfighter will have high confidence in,” Kurowski said. “The beauty is that agile involves all parties in understanding what we’re going to develop, how it’s going to look and then producing it — fast!”

For Project Overmatch, an agile methodology is critical to fast-track the development and delivery of more connected, next generation capabilities that not only drive better insights and intelligence, but also meet critical security requirements for the multi-domain mission we face. And once delivered, the capabilities can be refined based on feedback from the fleet.

The third leg of Kurowski’s software development stool is the use of a DevSecOps platform. A DevSecOps platform brings an integrated set of tools enabling agile planning, collaboration of all participants in the software development process from planning to code deployment, and automation of processes. The result is strong configuration management, allowing the team to deliver working, high quality code at a continuous velocity.

“There’s one more important aspect,” Kurowski said. “Now you have three legs to a stool, it’s now very stable. But if you don’t make those legs out of a good strong hardwood it’s going to fracture and crack. The same is true in the software development three-legged stool metaphor, only the solid material we use for those legs is talent and culture. We’ve become really good at building the agile culture, bringing together both sides of what industry refers to as CI/CD, and having everyone as part of the process. You also need the right talent, and an interest in solving some of our most difficult national security challenges.”

SIGINT once again serves as a good example of the talent challenge.

“If we can pro-actively introduce students to digital signal processing early and inspire and engage them, they develop a passion for it and bring their incredible aptitude and digital-native thinking to the problem,”Kurowski said.

That’s why he said it’s important for agencies and industry to partner with universities. Kurowski is blazing the trail with several successful university programs that are introducing students to national security and digital signal processing and it’s already yielding results in their work force.

“The near-peer threat requires agility, nimbleness, speed, continuous sophisticated enhancement, and more adaptable systems that can move fast … at the speed of relevance,” Kurowski said. “Programs like JADC2 need the three-legged stool of software development: open modern architecture, agile software development at scale, and a DevSecOps platform. And we need to embrace the right culture as well as develop the next generation of talent. That’s what we’re focused on across our program portfolio for our customers.”

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  • Glenn Kurowski

    Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, CACI