Air Force’s First Software Chief Steps Down

Mallory S. VanderSchans/Marine Corps

Leader of a Pentagon-wide DevSecOps initiative, Nicolas Chaillan cited lack of support from senior leadership as one reason for his  departure. 

Nicolas Chaillan—the Air Force’s first-ever chief software officer also involved in multiple high-profile, Pentagon-wide technology initiatives—revealed he’s leaving his post, in a blunt letter he shared on LinkedIn Thursday.

Chaillan wrote a bulleted list of influences behind his departure. Part of it has to do with wanting to be more present for his children and family, but much was associated with an apparent lack of support from the Pentagon and Air Force senior leadership.

Though he did offer the Air Force a recommendation regarding who should be his replacement, Chaillan told Nextgov Thursday afternoon that he does not yet know if the acquisition unit will offer the role to his suggestion. Also on Thursday, an Air Force press official confirmed that “Chaillan’s resignation was accepted today.” They added that “an acting chief software officer has not yet been identified.”

Chaillan’s journey with DOD began in August 2018, and he assumed position as the Air Force’s software chief in May of the following year, according to his LinkedIn. In his resignation post, he mentioned several milestones he helped the military branch achieve during his tenure, including bringing artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities “to the jets to co-pilot the jets alongside our Air Force pilots,” creating the “first large scale implementation of Zero Trust in the” government, and steering the formation of Platform One, a massive undertaking to launch a DevSecOps platform to speed up software development across the entire branch.

Among other tasks, he was also a co-lead on the DOD’s enterprise DevSecOps initiative, and also contributed to Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, effort and strategy to connect heaps of sensors from each military service under a unified network. Chaillan frequently spoke on the record about those efforts and was candid about frustrations he had with limited resources and support to complete his responsibilities.

He doubled down on those, and highlighted others in his letter this week. 

“Please stop putting a Major or Lt Col. (despite their devotion, exceptional attitude, and culture) in charge of ICAM, Zero Trust or Cloud for 1 to 4 million users when they have no previous experience in that field—we are setting up critical infrastructure to fail,” he wrote. “We would not put a pilot in the cockpit without extensive flight training; why would we expect someone with no IT experience to be close to successful?”

The executive asked the Air Force to empower its Chief Information Officer Lauren Knausenberger, noting that alongside her he has been “running in circles trying to fix ... various basic IT capabilities that are seen as trivial for any organization outside of the U.S. government.” He added that he was becoming “technology stale” due to “so much distraction just trying to push the laggards.” 

However, Chaillan said that “one of the main reasons” he chose to resign was the failure of military leadership to “deliver on their own alleged top ‘priority’, JADC2.” After being asked to help deliver a minimum viable product within 4 months—a tangible deliverable to show for the initiative—and doing much heavy lifting to get that work going, he was told there would be no JADC2 funding for the next fiscal year.

Further, he said the department “repeatedly refused to mandate DevSecOps,” which he deemed “borderline criminal.” 

“At this point, I am just tired of continuously chasing support and money to do my job,” Chaillan wrote. “My office still has no billet and no funding, this year and the next.”