Trend of the Day: Open Source Military Hardware

Excerpted from Alex Howard:

“What needs to change is the incentive structures for the people building and designing the “platforms of record” in the future, said Cartwright. That means designing programs and apps for problems we actually have, versus developing something that doesn’t get into the field for 10-15 years — and if you guess wrong on who an adversary will be, that sends you into a modification cycle of at least three years.

Open source methods, by way of contrast, can give the military the ability to change software in weeks and months, not years, said Cartwright. In that context, he indicated that the Pentagon is looking at how they can move from tightly, singularly integrated programs in the direction of more open platforms and open standards, where war fighters can add or get capabilities with modularity and at a speed measured in weeks and months, not months and years.

During the question and answer period that followed his remarks, Cartwright followed up on his comments on open source. Cartwright said that the Pentagon would like to get to the point where platforms are a conveyance for the needs soldiers have, with infrastructure set up in such a way that things can be switched out.

Notably, he said that in the past few years of the financial crisis, defense technology manufacturers that are agnostic to platform are faring far better. “They’re building code — sensors, activities — and others are not,” he said, “and if one or two programs are canceled, they’re in trouble.”

Cartwright asserted that military service acquisition people have started to understand the value of flexibility of technology that enables soldiers to quickly configure technology for fights.

To scale that across the entire military, he said, they must adopt more common standards across all services. Eventually, that would mean “displays, chipsets, anybody in this room can write code against, depending upon what the customer wants.”

Cartwright said he’d like to see today’s model of open source extended to military software and hardware.

“We’re thinking about a future where everyone’s garage can be a sweat house for the military,” he said, playing to his audience of military open source conferees.”

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