Open Platforms of the Future: Hardware-Enabled, Software-Defined

21st century warfighters face a fundamentally different battlefield than those encountered by previous generations. Threats are becoming more lethal, stretching across more domains, and occurring at increasing speed. As the nature of these threats evolve, so, too, must the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) approach.

As the 2018 National Defense Strategy makes clear, the DoD’s ability to identify, respond to, and defeat modern threats will depend on its ability to apply modern technology and software practices to meet its mission; and doing so will require government and military organizations to rethink how they develop, deploy, and host software. 

There is consensus across both the commercial and government sectors that open platforms are the path forward. Compared to more traditional approaches, modular, open frameworks can be updated seamlessly, and therefore allow organizations to field new capabilities more quickly. 

While this approach is gaining momentum, successful adoption remains difficult for many. Many organizations' IT infrastructure is still federated and built on legacy technology, meaning the resulting framework is often open only at the edges, and still tightly closed internally. The unfortunate reality is that systems cannot serve two masters, and this hybrid model hampers the framework at every turn. Within this type of framework, even small changes can create a ripple effect; changes made to one component typically require the entire framework to be changed. Not only is this expensive and time-consuming, it also denies organizations the speed and agility necessary to remain competitive. 

The hope is that organizations can begin to move away from frameworks that have been transplanted and repurposed from other commercial or mission systems, and instead focus on creating frameworks that localize change, meaning organizations can rapidly and cost-effectively add or extend services or replace technologies without affecting other components. In contrast to a framework with business logic and data models hardwired in, frameworks with a flexible concept of operations (CONOPS) interconnect system components in a manner that minimizes their dependence on one another so that, as the mission evolves, the framework evolves with it. 

While all of these technical elements are essential, they are not sufficient, because for an open platform to be fully functional, it must also combine mission and software expertise, as well as user input. As the three groups learn from one another and build trust, they integrate their perspective and expertise. They take a shared approach to a shared vision, one which takes advantage of the latest technologies and design patterns, while also providing all of the necessary capabilities to support mission applications and the user needs of today, tomorrow, and beyond.

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