Defense IT official says talk on software quality is cheap

Defense IT official says talk on software quality is cheap

BY THOMAS R. TEMIN | GCN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY'With the military planning to guide even individual grenades using embedded applications, how can the armed forces ensure software quality?

'Now even the bullets have software,' said Dolores Etter, deputy undersecretary of Defense for science and technology. Last week, at the opening session of the annual Software Technology Conference, Etter showed a picture of a handheld grenade launcher in which so-called smart projectiles are guided by 2,000 lines of code.

The question of software quality has been the subject of too much study and not enough action, she said. But Etter said her office is taking action.

The Defense Science Board in a study last year made recommendations to help the Defense Department gain better control of its software development processes. Etter said DOD's Software Intensive Systems Directorate is responding to the study.

For example, the board recommended that DOD offer contract incentives to get speedy development. As a result, Etter said, a committee within the directorate 'is looking at significant early completion bonuses.' And it is working on ways to 'have the bonuses flow down to the actual development teams,' she added.

Get it right

Another board recommendation: Widely apply the disciplines of good development, as defined under Level 3 of the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model. Although DOD already requires that its development teams and contractors meet CMM Level 3, no corresponding policy applies to program and acquisition managers.

Etter said she is working with the institute to develop a Level 3 extension to plug this hole. Defense program managers who constantly change requirements drive up costs and endanger quality, Etter said.

In dramatizing the need for better software development, she pointed out that both embedded software systems and management support systems are ballooning. The Air Force's unmanned planes, for example, carry 138,000 lines of code aloft and are supported by systems running another half-million lines. An Army Comanche helicopter runs 2 million lines of code, while its ground systems require another 1.4 million lines.

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