The Marine Corps is opening an in-house software factory that will train Marines as developers, with the goal of quickly creating applications for the fleet.
The Corps on Friday established a three-year pilot program for the Marine Corps Software Factory in Austin, Texas, a move that comes as the Defense Department is pushing services to build up more internal software-development talent.
“The Marine Corps is fielding more complex systems and platforms right now, and we must invest in our Marines’ and Civilian Marines’ capacity to advance in parallel,” Gen. David Berger, the Marine commandant, said in a Marine Corps news release.
Marines at the factory will get a year of training in software development, with help from contractors, and will receive an application developer (0673) military occupational specialty, according to the press release. Then they’ll spend two years building software solutions for the Corps.
The Marine factory is located alongside the Army Software Factory on an Austin Community College campus. The Texas capital is also home to a burgeoning tech scene, sometimes known as “Silicon Hills,” a nod to the city’s landscape.
Four Marines already have started at the factory, with two more slated to join this summer, Lt. Col. Charlie Bahk, the factory’s director, told Marine Corps Times Friday. Out of those six billets, five are for enlisted Marines and one is for an officer, Bahk. The factory plans to have 54 Marines three years from now.
Marines will secure spots in the factory through a “rigorous application process” modeled on the one the Army Software Factory uses, according to Bahk.
Bahk said applicants’ existing technical competence helps in limited ways, but the factory is prioritizing other characteristics: affinity to learn new disciplines within software development, maturity, emotional intelligence and grit.
Marines in the initial cohort came from the communications field, but Marines from any MOS can apply going forward, the release noted.
Familiarity with the digital world is increasingly important within the DoD, as militaries around the globe rely upon and field more advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and cloud computing.
Following in the Army’s footsteps
The Air Force and Navy established software factories in 2018, according to a Marine administrative message announcing the Marine factory Friday. A 2019 report by the Defense Innovation Board, an independent advisory board for the Pentagon, said the services should bolster their internal software development.
The Army factory was founded in 2021. Earlier this year, the service’s chief of staff, Gen. James McConville, lauded the factory’s soldiers.
“They’re incredibly tech savvy — the kids code. We have great young men and women in our software factory,” McConville said at a Defense Writers Group event, noting that officials should expect to “see a different type of person on the battlefield in the future.” “As we start to get artificial intelligence and we start using all these types of systems,” he added, “you’re going to have to code.”
Bahk walked into the Army Software Factory two weeks after its ribbon-cutting ceremony and immediately felt that the Marine Corps needed a program like it.
“So I said, Hey, if the Marine Corps wants this capability, which I firmly believe that we need, we just need to move in with them and partner, taking advantage of their facilities, their production resources and their expertise in order to accelerate us operationalizing this,” he said.
Bahk said he pitched it to now-Maj. Gen. Lorna Mahlock, then the Corps’ director of information, command, control, communications and computers.
Though Bahk is the director of the factory, its executive sponsor will be the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for information, Lt. Gen. Matthew Glavy.
For now, there are just two fully trained Marines in the developer MOS, according to Bahk.
While the factory was officially stood up Friday, it has been chugging along behind the scenes for months now.
“We’ve already developed an application that helps to maximize the capabilities and — trying to keep it at the unclass level — of commercial radars in support of the recon-counterrecon problem set,” Bahk said.
The four-Marine development team delivered the application within 90 days of being asked to do so, Bahk said, and all three Marine expeditionary forces quickly adopted it.
Searching for tech talent
The Marine Corps needs people who can develop software, Lt. Gen. James Glynn, deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told reporters on March 3.
That came in the context of a discussion of the service’s lateral entry pilot program, which will let some people with sought-after technical skills join or rejoin at a higher rank than they otherwise would have.
“If someone could present a compelling way to do lateral entry for software development, we would absolutely entertain that conversation,” Glynn said.
One way the Marine Corps is already trying to access more technical expertise is by tapping into the Reserve. At the newly formed Marine Innovation Unit, reservists use the tech knowledge they’ve gained from their civilian jobs to connect the Corps with private-sector innovation.
The Marine Corps, like its sister services, often relies on contractors for software development. The Marine Corps Software Factory isn’t going to change that.
Instead, it will work with commanders to get them software solutions to meet their specific needs, at a relatively fast pace.
“I want to be very clear about this: We’re not trying to upend or usurp acquisitions,” Bahk said. “We’re meant to be complementary and supplementary.”
Marines who want to join the factory — or even just have ideas for software it should develop — can email the factory at firstname.lastname@example.org, according to the news release. More details on applying will come in a future Marine message.
C4ISRNET reporter Colin Demarest contributed reporting.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.