IT/Networks

US Army to test more rapid patching of combat system software

The U.S. Army is making a “heavy push” this fiscal year to finish its common software repository, a platform meant to provide patches for combat systems months faster than the current process, the commander of Communications-Electronics Command said July 17.

Under the current system, patches would arrive on disks in the mail on a quarterly basis. That system, Maj. Gen. Mitchell Kilgo said, would put units 90 days behind where they should be, assuming that the patch took place as soon as the updates arrived.

The common software repository will be on a centralized server for both the NIPR and SIPRnet, and it will house all the software platforms that CECOM sustains, Kilgo said. The site will be hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency. The system will be accessible for users across the globe.

“Having that available with the latest and greatest software for all your systems allows you to pull that software at any time. So when they have the opportunity to upgrade their systems, that software is available for them. They know it’s the latest, they know it’s securely patched and all vulnerabilities have been mitigated,” Kilgo said at the AFCEA Army Signal Conference.

CECOM sustains command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for the Army. It will pilot the common software repository starting next week with the 101st Airborne Division. The command will test the platform, collect lessons learned and make adjustments through that pilot.

In the late fourth quarter of fiscal 2020, it will conduct another pilot with a different unit before adding yet another pilot with a unit outside the United States before December. The repository is expected to reach full operating capability in December, Kilgo said.

In mid-fiscal 2021, CECOM plans for the repository to be available to the whole Army.

The service is also developing a scorecard where units will be required to report the status of their software. The scorecard will be included in the Army’s unit status report and will affect their readiness rating.

The scorecard is an important piece of getting commanders to understand that software is a “critical enabler” of units’ missions, Kilgo said. With it, the Army will know that “when a battle platform rolls, it’s rolling with the most current software and it’s secure,” Kilgo said.

Kilgo also said CECOM is working to field an automated technology that will scan units’ software and discern what version they are running, versus what version they should be operating on. The technology will also then automatically patch the system.

He added that the service plans to work on those tools in FY21 and roll out the capability in FY22. Kilgo said the Army must consider how to determine when the system should push the patch “so that we’re conducting these automated patches when units are available to do them.”

“This gets at time, hardware and software of our systems to give us a better picture of how ready our forces are to fight,” Kilgo said. “Army senior leaders will have the opportunity leveraging tools they already have ... to see the software readiness of their systems within their portfolio. That’s a big deal for us, and it will provide us with the confidence that our soldiers have the right software in their systems to be effective.”

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