It's curtains for the Ada Joint Program Office
- By Gregory Slabodkin
- Jun 22, 1998
The Defense Information Systems
Agency is closing its Ada Joint Program Office, leaving the future of the Defense
Department software language in doubt.
The office, which employs about 10 vendors and has an annual operating budget of
approximately $4 million, will close in late September.
The decision comes a little more than a year after Emmett Paige Jr., then-assistant
secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, killed a
long-standing mandate that DOD programmers use Ada to develop software.
Since its inception in December 1980, AJPO has been the guiding force behind DODs
use of the Ada programming language.
But because Defense no longer must use Ada for developing software applications,
department officials said, the office is not as crucial.
"The Ada Joint Program Office is still operating, and the functions performed by
the Ada JPO are in the process of transitioning to industry," said Joan McGarity,
The first hint that DOD would do away with the office came in the fiscal 1998 budget,
which included no money for AJPO.
The office will hand off many of its functions to the Ada Resource Association, a
consortium of Ada compiler and tool vendors. The association will take over management of
the Ada Information Clearinghouse, which provides online access to information about Ada
products, services and other resources.
For more than 15 years, DOD has supported the clearinghouse, which AJPO sponsored and
the IIT Research Institute in Lanham, Md., runs. When it created a clearinghouse Web site
in 1994, AJPO became one of the first government organizations to use the Internet to make
data available to the public.
DISA is also transferring its extensive Ada library to a university for safekeeping.
The collection of historic and educational Ada materials will be kept intact and made
available for public use.
The Ada Resource Association will take over the Ada compiler validation program from
AJPO. Previously, the National Institute of Standards and Technology validated Ada
Some observers voiced concerns about turning Ada activities over to the private sector.
"I believe that DOD has an interest in maintaining the Ada standard and validating
the compilers," said Lt. Col. John "Drew" Hamilton, AJPO head from January
to July 1997. Hamilton is now an assistant professor of computer science at the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
"My concern about transitioning compiler validation to the vendors is that issues
arise that are not easily resolved and the vendors themselves are ill-equipped to deal
with," Hamilton said.
Some DOD officials recently downplayed the closing of the office and the transition of
its functions to the association.
"Ada is a commercial success," Anthony Valletta, then-acting ASD(C3I) noted
in a February report to Congress. "A robust Ada vendor and user community is in
place, independent of government-funded projects."
Hamilton said, however, that more than 7,000 military personnel have been trained in
Ada at the service academies and schools with direct support from AJPO. The support
included grants to develop Ada 95 courses and for buying teaching materials such as Ada 95
textbooks, tutorials and compilers. The Ada training will be lost when AJPO closes, he
The office also supported the development of the widely used Ada 95 GNU compiler and an
Ada 95-to-Java cross-compiler, Hamilton said.
Defense officials said DOD will continue to work with the Ada 95 standards bodies
through the DISA Center for Standards.
Congress also had questioned DODs decision to close AJPO.
"A recently issued National Academy of Science National Research Council report,
commissioned by the DOD, recommended, among other things, that funding of the Ada software
program be continued at a $15 million level in fiscal year 1998," the Senate Armed
Services Committee noted in a report accompanying the fiscal 1998 Defense authorization
bill. "Yet, DOD requested no funding in fiscal year 1998 for [AJPO], which oversees
the Ada program."
With a $15 million annual budget, DOD could support the creation of significant Ada
tools for warfighting applications, the councils report said.
Without that investment, the council concluded, Ada would likely become a second-tier,
niche language, such as the Air Forces Jovial and the Navys CMS-2.
But DOD officials said Ada isnt going anywhere anytime soon.
"Ada as a technology is here to stay, and Ada will continue to be used in DOD
warfighting and battlefield management applications far into the future," Valletta
said in February. "But, regardless of Adas unique history or specific
strengths, other languages are equally essential for maintaining existing and future
Defense is increasingly turning to cheaper programming languages such as C and C++ to
program its systems. DOD is encouraging systems programmers to use an engineering approach
when selecting a software language, based on a number of factors including lifecycle
costs, risks and interoperability.
"DOD policy now places all programming languages on equal footing, where
capability to provide the best support to the mission requirement will drive the solution
selected, not a one-size-fits-all mandate," Valletta said.