March 29, 2024

Compiling Advantage: Unlocking the Competitive Power of Software Adaptability

In an era of strategic competition among technologically advanced powers, software will shape the nature of deterrence and define national security advantages. Software is now ubiquitous, with powerful implications for economic productivity, governance, cybersecurity, and the character of modern warfare. From the systems that power our weapons platforms and command and control (C2) networks to the tools that enable our intelligence analysts and logisticians, software is now integral to every aspect of national defense. As the United States finds itself engaged in a long-term strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China, America’s success hinges on the US military’s ability to rapidly adopt and adapt technology in response to evolving threats and opportunities. The Department of Defense (DoD) needs to harness the power of software to quickly assemble, effectively deploy, and continually update its military capabilities. If it fails to do so, America risks ceding the military advantage to its adversaries.

To fall short now would not be just a bureaucratic debacle. It would pose an imminent threat to the US military’s ability to deter, fight, and win.

The central theme of this policy memo is the critical importance of software adaptability in enabling the DoD to outpace and outmaneuver its competitors. We argue that the ability to rapidly develop, deploy, and update software is not merely an enabler of military capabilities, but an emerging foundation of military advantage itself in the digital age. Adaptability is not an inherent feature of software; all too often we are victims of stale, outdated software that stands in the way of our desired outcomes. The DoD needs to carefully cultivate its ability to deploy, update, and integrate software and software-defined systems.

Despite the clear imperative for getting software right, the DoD faces a range of challenges and roadblocks that hinder its ability to achieve this vision. In particular, the DoD needs to remove the bureaucratic bottlenecks of its mishandled Authority to Operate (ATO) process, shore up a lack of in-house technical expertise, facilitate easier access to data and interfaces, and reform inflexible resourcing processes that were built for an earlier era. These challenges are not merely technical in nature. Rather, they reflect deeper structural and cultural barriers that the US needs to address head-on to compete effectively with its adversaries.

Read the full article from The Hudson Institute.

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