Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein addresses members of the Project Kessel Run team during a visit in Boston Dec. 6, 2018. 

Jan 10 2022

What Is the Future of the Air Force’s Software Vision?

A recent merger of software efforts coupled with the expected hiring of a new chief software officer point to changes inside the service branch.

The Air Force is at a crossroads when it comes to its efforts to drive software innovation within the service branch and the wider Defense Department.

In mid-November, the Air Force’s Platform One and Kessel Run innovation units signed an agreement to collaborate and support each other’s efforts. Meanwhile, the service branch is on the hunt for a new chief software officer following the stormy departure last year of Nicolas Chaillan, the Air Force’s first head of software.

Taken together, they point to a desire to streamline software efforts and drive momentum around IT innovation, including DevSecOps and other leading-edge software initiatives in government.

Platform One and Kessel Run are the premier units in the military software ecosystem, and the memorandum of understanding they reached late last year was “drafted as a way to formalize collaboration efforts and blur the lines between each service, helping to prevent siloing and duplication of efforts” in the DOD, according to a press release.

“Kessel Run and Platform One are both such huge thought leaders and cultural leaders for the department, starting with Kessel Run smuggling DevSecOps into the DOD, and continuing with Platform One leading the way to Kubernetes, a common repo, and a desire to bring the entire community together and leverage common enterprise services,” Air Force CIO Lauren Knausenberger said in the release. “Together, these teams are moving the department forward by deploying awesome warfighting software and giving more and more Airmen the opportunity to learn agile processes. It’s a huge shift to the way we execute our mission and we need more of it.”

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How Platform One and Kessel Run Will Work Together

Kessel Run is an Air Force unit focused on enhancing efficiency, cost savings and modernizing the Air Force via agile software development and user-centered design.

Meanwhile, Platform One is a software factory focused on merging talent from across the DOD, and helps other software factories by aiding them in building mission-oriented applications. As the announcement notes, Platform One offers collaboration and cybersecurity tools, source code repositories, artifact repositories, development tools, DevSecOps as a Service and more.

As FedScoop reports, the agreement “lays out cultural and technical points the groups will work together on, including building common security authentication standards, enforcing policy and establishing cross-platform and cross-environment portability.”

RELATED: See how Air Force CIO Lauren Knausenberger is driving innovation.

The idea is that Platform One and Kessel Run will be able to share software code and cut down on redundant tools. Eventually, the Air Force hopes the two units will have a shared technology development stack.

“The agreement is really more focused on building a government-owned tech stack together,” Maj. Austen Bryan, COO for Platform One, tells FedScoop.

The memo states that the two units will focus on creating “modularity and reuse” across systems. “We don’t have to re-do things,” Bryan says.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: How can DevSecOps benefit agencies?

Air Force Seeks a New Chief Software Officer

In September 2021, Chaillan announced his resignation as the Air Force’s first chief software officer in a public LinkedIn post, in which he said that he was continually facing challenges getting resources and support in the DOD for his efforts.

The Air Force is searching for a new chief software officer, and that office is still focused on making “the digital Air Force and Space Force a reality,” the office’s Military Deputy Major Christopher Olsen told Nextgov during the Roadmap to Modernization Summit in late December.

“Let me give props to the chief software office of the Air Force. I’m a big fan of [Chaillan and] what he did,” Defense Logistics Agency CIO George Duchak said during the panel, according to Nextgov. “He was really a visionary and a forcing function, and I think there was an impedance mismatch between how fast he wanted to move and how fast the department could move.”

Olsen said the chief software officer role and its office is going to endure and that there will likely be changes. “Anytime a new leader comes into an office, there’s going to be, you know, changes and that person is going to have a vision and goals that they want to execute,” he said.

While the Air Force searches for a new executive to lead the office, the small group is “looking at pretty broad, meaty questions” about how the Air Force will develop and deploy software, Olsen said.

“And some of it gets at some of those things that Mr. Chaillan pointed out in his LinkedIn posts,” he said. “So we want to try to lay the groundwork, if you will, on those questions. At the action officer level, it’s hard to answer them. But we’d like to tee them up so that when the new CSO comes in, they’re ready to go — and we have some courses of action laid out and they’re ready to make decisions.”

Photo by Jerry Saslav, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

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