Navy sets course for agile IT development

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

Throughout the government, officials who administer information technology resources are being asked to modernize existing networks using the principles of agile development.

That trend includes the military, where providing the war fighter with game-changing technologies is mission critical.

The challenge of adapting the principles of agile IT development and acquisition is something that the Navy’s David Weddel thinks about all the time. He is the deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance.


“The agility that we have will be measured in terms of things that are simple, products that can spiral, and items that we can tamp down the requirements, and prohibit, to the maximum extent possible, requirements creep,” Weddel said during a panel discussion in Arlington, Va. sponsored by AFCEA Washington D.C. chapter last week.

Weddel said that given the normal three-to-four-year lead time to get anything for the Navy, the concept of agile IT acquisition has relevance to components both old and new.

He offered an example of current agile development of a replacement for a radar jamming module on one of the Navy’s fleet of aircraft.

“The ALQ99 jammer pod on board out Growlers is a 40-year old jamming pod,” he said. “It’s been around a long time, and it still does a pretty good job. Now we’re in the midst of building the next one. Our vision is to do as well as the Navy did with the ALQ-99.”

Weddel said agile IT development also includes working closely with two of the Navy’s existing research and development arms: the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Va., and the Naval Research Lab in Washington.

Weddel added that his ideal situation would be to work with both the research community, and with the vendor community to come up with a family of technology modules that can work in all sorts of different electronic gear, modules that already have been tested and certified for one particular use, and can be readily adapted for use in a similar, or even a different product.

Rear Adm. Charles Smith, the Navy’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems, said he uses the term “state of the shelf” to size up whether a system and its software are ready.

“Because these things are so vital for business and communications, I can’t afford to miss a beat,” he said. “So, I want someone else to put the risk in to proving the technology before we have to employ it for the Navy and the Marine Corps. I don’t want to have to be the test bed if I don’t have to.”

Rear Adm. James Syring, the Navy’s program executive officer for integrated warfare systems, sought guidance from the AFCEA IT membership for their own best practices when it comes to melding weapons systems with IT.

“If you can provide me with ideas on how to manage that product through the lifecycle of these real-time combat systems, in terms of being able to upgrade these components and these products, when you change and when you need to upgrade,” Syring said. “And at the same time, understanding what it takes to test something like that when you’re dealing with radar, and missiles at sea.”

Syring also said he is hoping agile IT development will let the Navy’s surface ships one day take advantage of the advanced capabilities builds that had been developed in recent years for the submarine fleet. Those capabilities, he said, allow for a two-year development and deployment cycle for new IT and weapons systems innovations.

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