Air Force launches Digital Service franchise

Following on the December launch of the Army Digital Service, the Air Force has announced it is creating its own branch of the Defense Digital Service.

Deborah Lee James

Deborah Lee James, secretary of the U.S. Air Force

Not to be outdone by the Army, which recently launched its own branch of the Defense Digital Service, the Air Force is standing up an Air Force Digital Service branch.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced the new initiative at an Air Force Association Breakfast in Washington, jokingly referring to the new service as "a nerd cyber SWAT team."

"I saw what [the Defense Digital Services] could do first hand with the GPS next generation operational control system, or the OCX program," she explained. "OCX ran into some problems in part because we had collectively underestimated the level of software complexity and the cybersecurity that the project would require, so we brought in these experts."

She said the DDS team helped the Air Force understand advanced new software tools and provided advice that helped put the program back on track.

James said the Air Force Digital Service will be a small team that will "help us build software excellence into new programs and troubleshoot existing programs that run into difficulties with software. Software is frequently at the root of many of our difficulties," she added.

"So we're going to now be putting this approach to work to ensure that future programs are designed with an eye to the necessary cyber requirements and building the expertise we need to use the latest private-sector techniques," she said.

According to the DDS, the Air Force will be staffing a team of roughly 10 people in the coming months and the OCX program will be the initial focus. The DDS is in the initial stages of identifying future projects for the AFDS.

Outgoing Army Secretary Eric Fanning announced the launch of the Army Digital Service at an event in New York last month.

"We have almost an unlimited target set, problem set, where we want some help," he said at the event. "There's so much potential with this model in an area where we have so much that we need to do."

The Defense Digital Service ran the "Hack the Pentagon" program last year, and is also running the "Hack the Army" bug bounty, which in part led to the creation of the Army Digital Service.

DDS is itself an offshoot of the U.S. Digital Service, which was created in 2014 with a mission of recruiting top private-sector technical talent to serve short stints in government to solve technical challenges such as overhauling the website.

In addition to launching the AFDS, James said that the Air Force intends to grow its cyber workforce by 3,000 airmen in the Air National Guard by 2019. She said the new personnel would bring private sector experience to Guard units in 34 states.

James said that the next Air Force secretary must focus on a number of priorities including growing the workforce, improving readiness, upgrading conventional and nuclear systems and developing space capabilities.

James said that advancing those initiatives requires that the new administration and Congress work together to end sequestration and provide stable topline funding.

"Stop talking about it -- take a page out of Nike and just do it," she said.