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    U.S. Air and Space Forces Prioritize In-House Software Talent Amid Modern Warfare Shift

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    In a rapid world of technological advancements, the U.S. Air Force and Space Force are intensifying their efforts to bolster in-house software development expertise, crucial for modern warfare’s evolving landscape.

    soldier in military uniform using high tech computer in headquarters intelligence center. Focus on laptop display.
    soldier in military uniform using high tech computer in headquarters intelligence center. Focus on laptop display.

    This strategic move comes as the military branches acknowledge the pressing need for a proficient software-savvy workforce capable of innovating and maintaining advanced defense systems in real-time.

    The Air Force urgently needs software experts, Andrew Hunter, the top weapons buyer for the service, informed senators on Wednesday.

    “While we still rely on industry to produce the vast majority of our software, we need enough government expertise to really be a good customer for that,” Hunter stated during a Senate Appropriations Committee panel hearing.

    Soldier using remote controlling device
    Soldier using remote controlling device

    Most of the Air Force’s software initiatives are now managed by the new Air Force Sustainment Center Software Directorate, created last year by merging three software-engineering organizations.

    Photographer soldier with camera
    Photographer soldier with camera

    “We are also increasingly doing organic development of software in our sustainment center, [and] not just for systems that are in sustainment. But also for new development programs, like B-21, in partnership with our prime [contractor],” Hunter explained. “So that software workforce expertise is a key area of need.”

    The Defense Department as a whole has been focusing more on understanding, acquiring, and implementing software across the board. However, William LaPlante, the Pentagon’s lead weapons buyer, noted that there remains a cultural challenge that can be addressed through peer-to-peer training.

    When asked to grade the Pentagon’s acquisition process, LaPlante gave it an optimistic “B,” citing the high demand for U.S. weapons despite delays in adopting modern software practices.

    “The demand for foreign military sales for U.S. equipment is at record highs. Everybody wants the equipment. Everybody sees it work in Ukraine and other places. They know what can also be trained for and sustained,” he explained. However, the grade isn’t higher because the process is still too slow in adapting modern software, has too few interchangeable parts, and often gets requirements wrong.

    Russia’s war in Ukraine has demonstrated the critical importance of quick software upgrades in the field, especially to counteract jamming and spoofing that affect munitions’ accuracy. Additionally, the U.S. is lagging in its electronic warfare capabilities.

    Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., questioned LaPlante on how the Pentagon ensures its acquisition workforce is proficient in software, expressing concern that the DOD wasn’t learning from Ukraine’s “MacGyver-ing” of solutions in a complex battlespace.

    US Pentagon seen from above
    US Pentagon seen from above

    LaPlante responded that the Defense Acquisition University brings in experts to teach acquisition professionals how to utilize new authorities for purchasing software.

    Aerial view of the United States Pentagon, the Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington DC, with I-395 freeway and the Air Force Memorial and Arlington Cemetery nearby.
    Aerial view of the United States Pentagon, the Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington DC, with I-395 freeway and the Air Force Memorial and Arlington Cemetery nearby.

    “The best thing that can be done is experts that have done it in one part of the DoD teaching experts in another part, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re spreading the word,” he said, emphasizing the extensive online teaching and industry participation.

    “In fact, a class that I spoke to the other day, had a quarter of it were from industry. So I think all of the above is what we’re doing, knowing that you can be an expert in software acquisition today. Two years from now, you may not be an expert anymore; you have to keep up with it.”

    Pentagon in Washington building looking down aerial view from above, Birds eye view Pentagon, Washington, USA
    Pentagon in Washington building looking down aerial view from above, Birds eye view Pentagon, Washington, USA

    This focus on software acquisition is spreading across the services. The Army has been overhauling its software procurement and implementation processes, with Secretary Christine Wormuth issuing a service-wide directive in March. Leonel Garciga, the Army’s chief information officer, reported that the service promptly began adapting to the new directive, with various units starting to implement the changes immediately.

    Relevant articles:
    The Air Force needs more in-house coders, Defense One
    Air Force needs more software developers for modernization efforts, acquisition chief says, DefenseScoop
    Air Force looks to boost electronic warfare with coding, tactics units, Air Force Times
    House Software Developers Are Key to Digital Service, Air & Space Forces Magazine

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