Updating software in flight? The Air Force may be close

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force will soon announce that the service can update an aircraft’s software while in flight, the Air Force’s chief software officer said Tuesday.

Nicolas Chaillan, the service’s software czar, hinted at the announcement during a wide-ranging interview on a webcast hosted by C4ISRNET, but he declined to share which aircraft could handle the upgrade before the formal announcement is made. The update is part of a larger push by the Air Force to modernize its software practices.

However, Chaillan described the news as a “gamechanger” and offered insight into the challenges associated with updating software during flights.

“We need to decouple the flight controls, the [open mission systems], all the air worthiness piece of the software from the rest of the mission [and] capability of [that] software so we can update those more frequently without disrupting or putting lives at risk when it comes to the flying piece of the jet or the system,” Chaillan said.

A formal announcement could follow in coming days.

The Air Force is embracing agile development and DevSecOps in several of its programs to accelerate development time and deploy tools faster. Critical to this effort has been two Air Force environments — Cloud One and Platform One. Platform One, which was recently deemed an enterprise solution by the Department of Defense, is a software development platform that hosts a broad range of DoD components, including the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. The JAIC moved to the Air Force platform as it awaits the results of an ongoing court battle between Amazon Web Services and Microsoft over the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI cloud.

Chaillan said the F-35 program is also planning to move to Platform One soon. He added that he wants the platform to serve as a “software factory as a service.”

In the next 12 to 18 months, Chaillan said that he sees the service continuing to add artificial intelligence and machine learning into its systems at scale. Both Cloud One and Platform One will be critical to the development of those systems. Cloud One, a multi-cloud environment with Microsoft and AWS, will also be looking to add new vendors “down the road,” Chaillan said. The Air Force’s decision to go the multi-award route over the single award structure like JEDI made sense because of the advancement of cloud technology taken by the Air Force, Chaillan said.

“When JEDI started, it did make sense to have a single award because cloud is very hard and very complex and it did makes sense to start there. Would I do that now? Probably not. I think technology changed,” Chaillan said.

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