The Agencies Ushering in the Future of Defense Software

August 22, 2022

Throughout the Department of Defense’s (DoD) IT modernization movement there have been many organizations and program offices that have delivered great capabilities for the DoD by driving innovative changes in software development, acquisition, and hosting via the cloud. They have also adapted business processes for the DoD around these trends. These foundational organizations have generated a massive number of emerging software factories that are providing critical software capabilities for the DoD. Explore the following entities to see the great strides they've made the DoD’s IT modernization efforts.

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

Origin — The NGA evolved from efforts to advance the discipline of geospatial-intelligence (GEOINT) within the government. The NGA was originally founded in 1996 as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), but as the discipline became more advanced the former Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, Jr., adopted the term GEOINT in 2003. 

Mission — The NGA’s primary mission is collecting, analyzing, and distributing geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) in support of national security, but in recent years they have been working to improve the software development and acquisition pipeline for the DoD in service to their primary mission.

Achievements — The NGA has made successful efforts in lowering time to production for software applications by baking security measurements into the development life cycle. They have worked to lower timelines for achieving an Authority to Operate (ATO) to 30 days and as low as 24 hours. They have published multiple frameworks and guides to achieving these ATO guidelines such as the “2025 strategy proposal” and “The NGA Software Way.”

“Taking advantage of commercial capabilities … That’s a growth area for us [NGA].”

             Vice Admiral Robert Sharp
             Former Director of the NGA.


Origin18F was started in 2014 by a group of Presidential Innovation Fellows in an effort to improve and modernize government technology. It is an office of federal employees within the General Services Administration (GSA) that uses code to maintain security with both static and dynamic code analysis, eliminating the need for excel compliance sheets. 18F partners with federal agencies to help them build and buy technology.

Mission — 18F envisions a country “whose government consistently offers digital services that instill pride and trust, meet user needs, are secure, and are delivered quickly and at reasonable cost.” Overall, 18F aims to improve the user experience of government services by assisting in the development and purchasing of technology.

Achievements — 18F has assisted in launching numerous applications for agencies across the government through acquisition and tech development services. Some of these agencies include the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, the Department of Energy (DOE) , and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“18F’s philosophy to build everything openly by default has been a key success factor in our ability to build credibility with the external stakeholders who have been critical of us previously. More importantly, this way of building facilitates innovation in an eco-centric manner as opposed to just within the government or a few entities.”

             Christina Ho
             Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Accounting Policy and Financial Transparency,
             Department of the Treasury

United States Digital Service (USDS)

Origin — The U.S. Digital Service (USDS), established in 2014, works across multiple agencies to provide guidance on the best practices from various disciplines including engineering, product, design, procurement, data science, operations, talent, and communications. 

Mission — The USDS has four main objectives: transform critical public-facing services, expand the use of common platforms, services, and tools, rethink how the government buys digital services, and bring top technical talent into civic service. Whereas 18F practices hands-on assistance, the USDS has been described as being primarily a consulting body.

Achievements — The USDS has assisted in many efforts to improve government digital services including: simplifying Veteran-facing services through VA.gov, updating Medicare payments for a modern world, and improving how the government buys technology with the Digital IT Acquisition Professional Program (DITAP).

“The creation of the Digital Service and 18F are all part of the same, broader strategy designed to address how the federal government assesses the use and gaps in service delivery (Digital Service) and then fills those gaps by delivering 21st century solutions (18F).”

             Steve VanRoekel
             Former Federal CIO

Defense Digital Service (DDS)

Origin — The Defense Digital Service is a team of technologists bringing the practices built by 18F and the USDS to the DoD. Formerly a branch of the USDS, the Defense Digital Service is composed of private sector expertise, technical personnel, and service members. DDS provides pointed strategy recommendations to DoD developers, speeding up development and diminishing strategic barriers.

Mission — DDS operates as a digital first-response force for the DoD. They “surge in times of crisis and emerging threat, take the lessons learned and the technology built, and add to the Defense Department’s capabilities.”

Achievements — Partnerships with the Secretary of Defense allowed for the DDS to cut policy roadblocks for the DoD team, thus streamlining the system development process. Shifts began when the DDS launched the "Hack the Pentagon" program in 2016, the first federal bug bounty program. DDS partnered with the Department of Defense Cyber Crimes Center (DC3) to launch the first vulnerability disclosure program (VDP) to further leverage the expertise of hackers to secure DOD public-facing web assets.

"DDS was created to bring in the best and brightest, to help advance the mission to solve some of our hardest technical problems, and to make sure technology doesn't get in the way of our mission: national defense."

             Brett Goldstein
             Former Director of DDS 

Cloud One (C1)

OriginCloud One, initiated in 2017 by the Air Force, is a hosting service and platform that offers secure government cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, and Google to the DoD. In addition to hosting, users can efficiently develop cloud-native apps using a DevSecOps development framework. Cloud One’s technical teams also assist with migrating customer systems to the cloud. Cloud One started as an Air Force solution, but has scaled to serve all of the DoD. Cloud One is now modernized and managed by the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

Mission — Cloud One's mission is to be a one-stop-shop for acquiring secure cloud services pre-configured to meet DoD security requirements. 

Achievements — Cloud One is open to all DoD services and has 76 systems operating in production according to saic.com. Cloud One has also gained clearances for impact levels 2, 4, 5, and 6. It offers secure and reliable AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud environments and services for mission applications.

“Cloud One enables customers that don’t really have the technical skills or resources to manage their own cloud migration and to take advantage of all the modernized IT capabilities that the cloud has to offer.”

             Joanne Akhavan
             SAIC’s Deputy Program Manager for Cloud One 

Platform One (P1)

OriginPlatform One was established in December 2019 by the Air Force. It’s a program that manages services for software factories so that development teams can dedicate their focus to mission applications. Platform One and Cloud One are closely partnered. P1 provides DoD Enterprise DevSecOps Initiative (DSOP) solutions for federal software acquisition entities. It provides these solutions through an infrastructure as code (IaC) model. Some of its offerings include hardened Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF)-compliant Kubernetes distributions, infrastructure as code playbooks, and hardened containers all pre-approved for DoD use.  

Mission — Platform One was established with a clear mission statement: “Accelerate Secure Software Delivery for the DoD.” It is meant to serve as the model for open architecture services across the DoD. 

Achievements — Policy changes made it so that Platform One didn’t have to ask for source code and go through compliance checklists when assessing software applications, instead leveraging hardened containers and automated testing. This change positively influences the relationship between the DoD and small commercial companies by adding more protection for intellectual property and shortening ATO timelines. Platform One also built a cloud access point, hardened software image registry, and the Big Bang software factory tooling.

“When you mix agile and DevSecOps into a single construct, which should be the only way to build software in 2021, that is the only way to compete with our competitors.” 

             Nicolas Chaillan
             Former U.S. Air Force Chief Software Officer

Kessel Run

Origin — Started in 2017, Kessel Run has made significant steps in revolutionizing software acquisition by focusing on software development powered by Air Force Airmen equipped with commercial industry software development training to continuously deliver valuable software to DoD users. These Kessel Run Airmen build, test, deliver, operate, and maintain cloud-based infrastructure and warfighting software applications. Today, Kessel Run is recognized as an accomplished DoD software factory.

Mission — Kessel Run's mission is to “rapidly deliver combat capabilities to warfighters and revolutionize the Air Force software acquisition process.”

Achievements — Kessel Run’s first big success was the development and successful launch of the tanker planning tool “Jigsaw” in March 2017, proving itself as a viable capability producer. Kessel Run has since grown to support all of the DoD, even winning the Air Force’s General Larry O. Spencer Innovation award and the Theodore Van Karman award in 2019 for “shattering the status quo of IT and software acquisitions over the past year and ushered in a sea-change to all facets of acquisitions. Kessel Run’s successes tremendously improved DoD capabilities and ignited a paradigm shift in Air Force acquisitions,” according to the award package.

“Kessel Run is not just about building applications. We within the DoD need to relook at how we do requirements. We have to be able to take these technical requirements decisions and move them down to that product level, versus at the acquisitions level.” 

             Enrique Oti
             Founder and Former Commander of Kessel Run and CTO of Second Front Systems™

Army Software Factory (ASF)

Origin — The Army Software Factory opened on April 15, 2021, in Austin, Texas on Austin Community College’s Rio Grande campus. The Army Software Factory is a training pipeline for Soldiers and Army Civilians to learn modern software development practices in order to prototype, develop, and recreate applications for real operations. 

Mission — The ultimate goal of the ASF is to cultivate software development talent from within the Army to further modernization efforts. 

Achievements —The Army Software Factory has made notable accomplishments: It has produced eight applications, achieved production deployment for its first application in 99 days, and has graduated two cohorts of soldiers and Department of the Army (DA) civilians from the Army Software Factory Technical Accelerator, an immersive agile software development program led by industry experts.

“The capability to develop software at the lowest tactical levels will help us provide better software products. We anticipate long-term cost savings and expect the Software Factory to help us maintain a competitive advantage across Army modernization efforts.” 

             Gen. John M. Murray
             Former Commander of Army Futures Command


OriginAFWERX was officially announced on July 21, 2017 as the Technology Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the innovation arm of the Department Air Force. AFWERX offers services to help foster innovation in many ways. In AFWERX, AFVentures expands the Defense Industrial base for advanced technologies, Spark empowers Airmen and Guardian talent, and Prime drives transition to operational capability.

MissionAFWERX’s mission is to “accelerate agile and affordable capability transitions by teaming innovative technology developers with Airman and Guardian talent.”

Achievements — AFWERX, and their investment arm AFVentures, were the first DoD innovation initiatives to leverage the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) budget to engage with commercial industry. They have instituted successful methods to acquisition such as the “Open Topic” approach to soliciting new promising commercial tech proposals, and their supplemental SBIR follow-on funding programs. They have also accelerated solutions to hard problems through the Prime programs.

“We don’t just fund ideas and see how those ideas play out and then nothing happens… AFWERX is really about transitioning those ideas to capabilities for the Defense Department. We identify technologies that support missions and then continue to invest in those concepts over time to scale them into programs of record.”

             Col. Nathan Diller
             Director of AFWERX

Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)

Origin — The Defense Innovation Unit is a DoD organization that was started in 2015 to help the DoD acquire commercial technology faster. Originally DIUx (for experimental), DIU also assists in fielding and scaling these technologies for the DoD. According to diu.mil, “DIU is the only DoD organization focused exclusively on fielding and scaling commercial technology across the U.S. military at commercial speeds.” DIU partners with organizations across the DoD and National Security Community to connect them with leading commercial sector tech businesses in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), energy, and space.

Mission — DIU’s mission is to “accelerate DoD adoption of commercial technology, transform military capacity and capability, and strengthen the American national security innovation base.”

AchievementsDIU’s core metrics for assessing impact is the degree to which they are able to operationalize solution prototypes and transition commercial solutions to DoD customers. DIU has transitioned an average of six technology solutions per year. In FY 2021, DIU delivered a total of eight commercial solutions to DoD end users. DIU is also responsible for the creation of Kessel Run and Rogue Squadron, a team that develops hardware and software solutions for small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and counter-UAS missions. Rogue Squadron was acquired by the DDS in 2020.

“[DIU] pioneered the concept that we don’t have to build our own rockets.” 

             Michael Brown
             Director of the Defense Innovation Unit


Origin — In 2018, the Navy released their own innovation hub, NavalX, to operate as a match-making effort to bring in new technology. NavalX is staffed by government civilians, Marines, Sailors and partners across the Department of Defense. NavalX Tech Bridges offer a collaboration space in a commercial business space, rather than on base.

MissionNavalX’s mission is to: guide naval stakeholders to rapidly deliver capabilities to the warfighter; serve as the platform that connects naval needs and challenges with expert solution providers across industry, academia, and the Department of the Navy; encourage and foster culture change across the Department of the Navy to make it a more agile, learning and adaptable organization.

Achievements — As of Aug. 2022, NavalX has successfully implemented 18 “Tech Bridges” to encourage and increase collaboration across the Navy. Tech Bridges are a connected network, like franchises, that enhance collaboration between Naval Labs, industry, academia, and other military branches. NavalX has also launched six Centers for Adaptive Warfighting (CAW). CAWs focus on helping naval teams quickly learn modern techniques for managing work and delivering value.

“Our objective to change the culture of the Navy to be more agile and innovative in its development, sustainment and acquisition approaches, is unwavering. We are evolving our tactics to meet the needs of our customers and continue our number one goal: guide stakeholders in delivering capability to the warfighter.” 

             Capt. Benjamin "Nut" Van Buskirk
             Director of NavalX

The Space Command and Control (Space C2) program (Kobayashi Maru)

Origin — The Space C2 was established in 2018 to replace the Space Force’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) Mission System (JMS). The program provides IT infrastructure and enterprise services, as well as develops mission applications to enable responsive, resilient operational-level capabilities. It rapidly delivers capabilities across multiple security levels by coordinating critical development and operations enablers, such as DevSecOps processes. 

Mission — Space C2 is in charge of modernizing, and automating via machine learning and AI, the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) IT systems for Space Command use. 

Achievements — Space C2 focuses on developing complex interconnected application systems that gather and process data to be communicated to commanders so they can make timely, informed decisions to counter threats. To this effect, Space C2 has delivered products such as: a high-interest event tracker (Metroid) that allows operators to monitor, track, and display information regarding high interest space events; a radio frequency deconfliction tool that reduces the time it takes to process deconfliction requests; and ATLAS, the Advanced Tracking and Launch Analysis System.

“In the world of space acquisitions, agility is a best practice. This is because software development and sustainment no longer follow the norms of the previous century. Repeatedly, the DoD has struggled with fielding software intensive programs in a timely fashion and within a reasonable cost.”

             Col. Jennifer Krolikowski
             CIO of Space Systems Command and Former Senior Materiel Leader of Space C2

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Origin — According to CIA.gov “The National Security Act of 1947 established CIA as an independent, civilian intelligence agency within the executive branch. The CIA is in charge of coordinating U.S. intelligence activities as well as collecting, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence affecting national security.

Mission — The CIA’s mission is to collect foreign intelligence; producing objective all-source analyses; conducting effective covert actions as directed by the president; and “safeguarding the secrets that help keep our Nation safe.”

Achievements — The CIA’s standout achievement in the Intelligence Community’s IT modernization efforts was being the first to begin the migration from legacy systems to cloud computing along with the support of industry. In addition, it has led the charge in attempting large enterprise commercial cloud contracts, successfully courting AWS. In 2020, the CIA awarded its Commercial Cloud Enterprise (C2E) contract to AWS, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and IBM.

“Those in the intelligence community must master the collection, movement, storage, and exploitation of data so that we can enable operations, enhance analytic insights, and provide policymakers with the strategic advantage they need to protect America and her allies.”

             Jennifer Ewbank
             Deputy Director of Digital Innovation for the CIA

These agencies and program offices are the driving forces of DoD and government IT modernization. They work together across DoD services, as well as across departments to modernize IT systems and their acquisition for the betterment of the DoD and National Security Community. Furthermore, they are leading the way in integrating industry and academia with defense efforts and national security interests in order to maintain our technological dominance over enemies of peace.

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