Defense lifts its Ada requirement for programming
- By Gregory Slabodkin
- Jun 16, 1997
In one of his final moves as DOD's chief information officer, Emmett Paige Jr. issued
an April 29 memorandum to the military service secretaries that said the department no
longer would require DOD programmers to use Ada exclusively when developing software.
DOD wants program officials to select a language based on a system's development
requirements, said the memo from Paige, who last month stepped down as assistant secretary
of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence.
"Programming language selections should be made in the context of the system and
software engineering factors that influence overall lifecycle costs, risks and potential
for interoperability," the memo said.
"Ada should be one of the languages considered in this decision process,"
Paige said. "However, Ada waiver requests are no longer required when another
language is selected."
Paige's memo will serve as an interim policy until the Office of the Assistant
Secretary of Defense for C3I completes a final software policy directive, DOD officials
Computer Programming Language Policy, a 1987 DOD directive, mandated Ada use for
weapons systems and other applications. Under the policy, DOD waived the Ada requirement
only if a DOD agency could show that another language was technically superior or more
The Paige memo follows the advice of a November National Research Council report that
concluded DOD needed more flexibility in its software policies. The council's report
criticized DOD for overemphasizing programming languages at the expense of software
engineering. It recommended abandoning what the council called a "weakly
implemented" Ada waiver process.
In its review, the council found that the services were inconsistent in interpreting
and applying waiver criteria. Since 1992, only 31 waivers have been granted, the council's
Ada industry officials said they approve of the policy change.
"Overall, I think it's positive," said Oliver Cole, chairman of the Ada
Resource Association, a consortium of Ada vendors. "People in the military have used
Ada in the past out of ignorance as opposed to choice. Basically, they followed blindly
because it was mandated, and they wound up having real problems. There are places where
Ada is appropriate and not appropriate."
Cole said the new policy will strengthen Ada's niche in weapons systems applications.
But the language might lose ground for other applications, such as office and management
support, he said. Ada has not experienced the same commercial success as Java, C and C++.
"The difficulty with the Ada mandate was that there wasn't any one-size-fits-all
kind of solution out there," said Lt. Col. John Hamilton, head of the Defense
Information Systems Agency's Ada Joint Program Office. "If you need high-assurance,
high-reliability software, then you need to be using Ada. You don't need that kind of high
reliability for a word processor."
The National Research Council report found that Ada 95 was technically superior to C,
C++ and Java when used for high-assurance, real-time systems. Ada is DOD's first choice
for weapons systems applications with 50 million lines of code, followed by C with 33
million lines of code. But for developing administrative applications, Ada ranked second
among DOD users just behind Cobol, the council found.