DoD eyes open-source recruitment

Enlisting open-source standards and development strategies can give the U.S. military an edge in the battlefield through greater speed and agility, according to DoD (Department of Defense) Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Sue C. Payton.

"To wage Information-Age warfare, we need business processes that allow us to evolve faster than our adversaries. The problem is that DoD software is acquired with the same Industrial-Age business processes used to acquire ships, tanks and other physical machinery. ... [W]hy are we buying lines of code the way we buy ordnance?" Payton writes in an article recently published in Military Information Technology.

She continues: "By 2015, the projected number of lines of code required for avionics, compared to the number of clearable software coders, will be overwhelming. There are not enough cleared American programmers to sustain the U.S. military's information technology infrastructure if we cannot leverage software across the defense enterprise. The current model of closed software development is broken; a new model is required."

In her article, Payton cites some governmental agencies that already are benefiting from open source. She writes that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) reaped $15 million in savings by moving to open-source for managing traffic flow. Additionally, she says "in the Army's Land Warrior program, open source has mitigated the pain of software integration for the Stryker Brigades' 300-plus hardware and software interfaces. After software malfunctions, the Army replaced the commercial operating system with an open source operating system in its Land Warrior interoperability program for Stryker Brigades."

Payton acknowledges that, to some, open source is synonymous with insecure. Countering that argument, she writes that "an ad hoc working group from DARPA, , NIST and NSA found that a source code's wide availability is more likely to uncover changes that can have negative consequences. It also allows static analysis tools to detect malicious code or undocumented features."

She also notes that the number of people with write access to a new open source project is typically quite small. Further, she says that open source projects tend to have fewer bugs and glitches because more eyeballs are scrutinizing them.

Moving to an open-source friendly environment is not simple task, Payton acknowledges; it requires "changes in requirements, policies, procedures and reviews." As a guide down that path, she cites a report titled "Open Technology Development: A Roadmap Plan," released last April.