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Army Futures Command CDO Cites Critical Role of Software Factories in DOD Modernization

The Army’s digital transformation relies on its ability to share data rapidly and securely while iterating on new technologies for a military environment.

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image of Army Futures Command's Software Factory operations taking place on March 22, 2021 in Austin, Texas.
Army Futures Command's Software Factory operations taking place on March 22, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Photo Credit: Luke Allen/DVIDS

Data leaders at Army Futures Command say modernization at the Army will rely on the service’s ability to adapt commercial technologies to a military environment and share data rapidly and securely with coalition partners in theater.

“We view digital transformation as more about adopting and gaining mastery of technologies and processes already established in industry,” said Army Futures Command Chief Data Officer Matt Benigni during a Dcode webinar last week. “We’re investing in people and platforms, and those two are tightly coupled. They have to be employed in a way to deliver those capabilities.”

Benigni said research and development as well as S&T efforts will be critical to developing “the major combat systems that will be most important in 2040,” but the onus of the task will fall on the Defense Department’s rapid tech development arms and software factories like Army Futures Command.

“To build the equivalent of the next Abrams tank, that’s a far-sighted endeavor because industry is likely not going to deliver that to us, there’s no market to deliver that to us,” Benigni said. “The Army and our modernization enterprise have done that for decades, albeit in a much more industrial-based way.”

Benigni envisions a modernized Army that integrates emerging technologies into existing systems and merges legacy systems with new tech via an iterative approach, like DevSecOps.

“[It’s a] ‘let the customer evolve the product through consumption’ sort of idea,” he said. “How do you integrate AI into existing systems for tasks like performing reconnaissance in a fully autonomous fashion? The market’s probably not going to deliver that, but we’ll probably have to do that in a more iterative way.”

Army Software Factory Director Vito Errico said technology roadmaps like Army CIO Dr. Raj Iyer’s Digital Transformation Strategy will help Army units “get touchpoints” with emerging trends and best processes to more efficiently modernize systems and networks.

“The Army’s got to weigh that with ongoing priorities, so it becomes an organized way to get soldiers in front of technologies,” Errico said during the Dcode webinar. “One of the key benefits of Army Futures Command is that it speeds up [technology acquisition].”

Errico said cataloguing data, establishing common data standards and learning how to share data securely and effectively are critical components of IT modernization at the Army. He said there’s been a “tremendous drive” in the Army to do just that, despite pushback from “different stakeholders” regarding new data-sharing practices.

“You can imagine a variety of different ways why any organization with a bunch of different stakeholders would not gravitate to that all at once,” Errico said. “I think you’re going to see the relatively new Army leadership really start to push on breaking down cultural and organizational barriers that prevent us from better data-sharing.”

Errico’s and Benigni’s comments align with Iyer’s push for total cultural overhaul to allow for better data-sharing as he moves the Army “from the industrial age to the digital age.” In a GovCast interview with GovCIO Media & Research, Iyer said he wants to “democratize data” to empower the next generation of soldiers to reach multi-domain operations via the Joint All-Domain Command-and-Control (JADC2) initiative.

Sharing data rapidly, securely and effectively with coalition partners is more important than ever, Errico said.

“Everyone is becoming more cognizant about what data is and what it isn’t, and that’s a good thing and a bad thing,” Errico said. “Lowering the classification of their data so more partners can use that data. A lot of the impediments of unexpected contingencies are preventing us from sharing with our partners, so you’re seeing for the first time commanders mandate they go to more partnered networks. It’s not just about data, how do we handle our own information in a way that’s more consumable?”

Data sharing involves machine-to-machine communication. Benigni said he expects machine-to-machine communication to eat more network traffic, so enhancing system interoperability and learning to use artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline these communications will be top priorities going forward.

“We’ve talked about an AI in the military like it’s an algorithm problem when really it’s a data problem,” Benigni said, noting that lifecycle management is a particular problem area. “I think we’re going to mature over the next few years to where data backhaul is a much more deliberate thing we’re going after.”

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