The migration of command and control into the digital realm in recent years has been described as a crucial advance, but military leaders say that’s only half the game.

“People think that because we have gone from wires and cables to software-based systems, that is modernization,” said Capt. Patrick Herring, deputy program executive officer and military deputy at the Defense Information System Agency’s services development directorate.

Moving to digital was an important first step, but true modernization goes deeper, he said. Instead, it’s about the processes and systems driving command and control, the way in which systems interconnect, the means by which new capabilities are evolved and added.

To that end, DISA is looking to industry best-practice methodologies such as agile development and DevOps to get better software solutions into play more quickly.

Agile software development refers to a collaborative approach by which end users and developers repeatedly test, re-think and redeploy new capabilities. DevOps describes a development culture that emphasizes shorter development cycles to get new capabilities fielded faster.

The use of these methodologies has been key to leveraging the promise of digital C2. “The most important thing is the speed at which we can deliver decision-quality data to commanders,” Herring said. That’s what this is about.

Searching for improvements

Other military organizations also have looked to agile and DevOps for process improvements.

Leaders from the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team, for instance, said recently that it would adopt a “halt, fix, pivot” network modernization strategy, employing agile development strategies to break down stovepipes and integrate communications.

The Marine Corps Strategy for Assured Command and Control document lays out a similar approach. “Many of our management practices and processes are antiquated and will not deliver the results we need. Too many are outdated and obsolete. [IT organizations] must evolve the way they manage, deliver, and C2 the network,” the report states. “We must develop innovative ways to procure equipment that is ready now and adaptable to future missions.”

That’s just what DISA aims to do as it leverages agile and DevOps in the service of C2 modernization. The agency reports a couple of recent wins with this approach.

Making progress

Take for instance the logistics applications known as Global Combat Support System - Joint. “DISA has been using an Agile development process that has incorporated the automation of a number of previously manual development tasks ― build, test, scan ― in the contractor’s development environment,” Herring said.

The new methodology aims to drive command and control improvements from the ground up, by continuously seeking feedback from the end user, and using that as the spur for iterative development efforts.

While DISA has not yet formulated a DevOps process that encompasses the entire software development lifecycle in logistics, “that will be part of future modernization efforts,” he said.

DISA likewise is looking to implement industry-standard development strategies around the modernization of its Joint Planning and Execution Services, a portfolio of capabilities that supports C2 around joint operations.

Here, too, frequent engagement with the user community “has provided insight into any potential issues with the product, allowing DISA and the software developers to intervene early in the development lifecycle,” he said.

Within the digital C2 environment, DISA views this emphasis on the development process as being of critical importance. While there has been no end of innovation around the flow of information and data available to commanders, “not every change is a good change,” Herring said. The military needs reliable methodologies for rapidly vetting and deploying C2 enhancements, without disrupting systems that are already working well.

DISA describes the move toward modernized C2 developed strategies as a work in progress. Those pushing for change must contend with the vast complexity of military systems, as we as with decades-old methodologies that are anything but agile.

“It’s easy to just say, ‘Let’s move everything to the cloud!’ But that doesn’t solve every challenge,” Herring said. “There is so much information that a commander needs to know, so much information to ingest, aggregate and visualize across multiple services, multiple mediums.”

At the same time, “the hardest thing to do in any organization is to change the culture, to change the mindset,” he said. “We’re learning a different way to do business, and we need to adapt to that.”