The Army Aims to Be Less Dependent on Contractors for Software

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The command of the military branch in charge of looking ahead is soliciting prototypes for a major knowledge-transfer initiative.

By March, Army Futures Command plans to award an offeror with an agreement to establish a program that would start with coding workshops and beginner training and, after five years, end with a scalable government-only software development facility.

The Army’s first soldier-led software factory “shall be staffed, built, and run from zero existing infrastructure or policy precedent, to ultimately transition to Army self-sustaining operation as a fully-uniformed agile software development unit without a heavy reliance on contracted presence,” reads a solicitation posted to beta.sam Monday. “The future operating environment will include contested communications and the Army can no longer singularly rely on industry to provide software solutions given the infeasibility of contractors on the battlefield in a high-intensity conflict with a near-peer adversary.” 

The government in general is also interested in saving money it spends on proprietary software. A pilot at the Office of Management and Budget wants to address this while increasing innovation by using more open source code. But there is a recognition of associated risks, as malign actors can introduce vulnerabilities to popular libraries, and legislators have called for Defense officials to develop a process for code security reviews. Whatever officials come up with could prove challenging to execute, especially given a persistent talent shortage

While the Army Futures Command describes the desired soldier-led software factory as being without a policy precedent, the Air Force is doing something similar with its Platform One initiative. The training component is a huge challenge there. But the DevSecOps model—where the development, security and operation of software are all tended to in close, collaborative, quarters—seems to be gaining more momentum in the military.

The technical requirements included in the Army Futures Command solicitation stress a need to “train the trainers” and the ability for staff to have both the necessary engineering expertise and teaching acumen. Operating out of the Austin, Texas, area, initial cohorts would contain about 30 individual Army trainees, with a new cohort starting every six months.  

Another key feature of the Army Futures Command solicitation is the condition that the government would enjoy intellectual property rights of any code jointly developed through the initiative. But whoever wins the other transaction agreement—a vehicle that allows for non-traditional defense contractors to participate outside of federal acquisition regulations—would maintain license over the software they initially develop to run the platform. 

The awardee could also play a major role in the government becoming less reliant on third parties for software and ultimately solving its cybersecurity workforce woes.  

Whitepapers with prototype proposals are due Jan. 19. After that, involvement will be invitation only. If interested, the government will reach out with feedback on the best ideas and make official requests for proposals a week later. Proposals would then be due Feb. 9 and an award would be made March 8.