The Latest in Military Software Development | TechWell

The Latest in Military Software Development

Since the National Security Agency’s PRISM program was revealed to the public, we’ve learned a lot (but still not nearly everything) about the types of technology the US government is using when it comes to data gathering and analyzing.

With this in mind, let’s turn our attention to what the US military is working on, because as we now know, “Much of the weaponry now used by the US military—advanced warplanes, drones, smart bombs, autonomous vehicles—is driven by software,” as technical defense consultants Christian Hagan and Jeff Sorenson state in a recent paper.

The authors of this paper outline their suggestions toward modernizing the software production and management of large-scale projects, including the development of the much-anticipated F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, in which the “complexity of the F-35’s software” has caused the project’s costs and delays to balloon.


A June 2013 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the fighter-plane program highlights some improvements over cost management, but the project is still set to go overboard from original estimates, especially when it comes to one of our favorites subjects: testing.

From the GAO report:

Software integration and test will be challenging as many complex tasks remain to enable full warfighting capability. The program is also incurring substantial costs for rework-currently projected at $1.7 billion over 10 years of production—to fix problems discovered during testing. With about two-thirds of development testing still to go, additional changes to design and manufacturing are likely.

This should come as no surprise to those of us following how the government is modernizing software and IT management. Of course, this is much easier said than done, and projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter only serve to illustrate just how much more room for improvement there is to create software projects that don’t run over estimates.

So now that we have information on a top-of-the-line military software project that appears to be in need of better management, what’s a military software project that seems to be going well? For that, let’s turn to the MIT Technological Review and its report on how West Point cadets and officers “developed some software for gathering information about the links between the people who make and distribute improvised explosive devices.”

Because of the software’s reported success in creating “counterinsurgency techniques used by the US Army in Afghanistan,” the military is working on adjusting the software so police departments can use it to counter gang violence. The report goes on to say that “there are a number of similarities between gang members and insurgents and that similar tools ought to be equally effective in tackling both.”

From the MIT Technological Review:

To that end, these guys have created a piece of software called the Organizational, Relationship, and Contact Analyzer or ORCA, which analyses the data from police arrests to create a social network of links between gang members.

The new software has a number of interesting features. First it visualizes the networks that gang members create, giving police analysts a better insight into these organizations.

This software looks interesting and is another example of how far data-analytics have come, but we are still left with some familiar questions: How can we ensure these big-scale software projects are properly managed and don’t place a heavy burden on the taxpayers? Just how certain can we be that this new analytical software is accurate and won’t generate false positives?

Share your thoughts with us in the Comments section below.

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