DAYTON, Ohio — The Air Force needs to move away from making major, infrequent system software upgrades if it is to ensure that capabilities are up-to-date to meet future threats, a top service official said Wednesday.

“The goal is to keep a cadence of software push all the time,” Will Roper, service assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said at the Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) third annual Life Cycle Industry Days (LCID) conference here.  

An Air Force F-22 Raptor. Photo: Air Force.
An Air Force F-22 Raptor. Photo: Air Force.

Service personnel are beginning to work at a more rapid pace to field upgrades within a month, whether on their own or by working alongside contractors, emulating commercial development practices as the service works to embrace more agile acquisition and sustainment strategies, Roper said.

“When I was coming through and managing a program, software was a product,” Roper said. “I thought I knew how long it would take to develop, how many lines of code it would be, what it would cost.”

Now, “You’re never done with software,” he added. The Air Force is just starting to move to a culture that is constantly monitoring its code for errors, receiving and digesting user feedback and developing smaller upgrades more quickly, he said.

“If your software is sitting, you’re vulnerable, … [and] probably not keeping pace with your opponent,” he said, adding, “We will live and die by the quality and the currency of our code.”

The F-22 Raptor aircraft program office is using Section 804 authorities approved by Congress to speed up upgrades to the aircraft’s system, said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, program executive officer for fighters and bombers, which is housed under the AFLCMC at Air Force Materiel Command on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

“We’re looking at setting up a much faster cadence,” he said during a media roundtable. “Instead of eight to 10 years, we can get capability out there maybe every year or 18 months, so that we can react to threats and get capability to the field that’s the highest priority to the users.”

Roper noted that moving away from “big, monolithic drops” of capability upgrades will allow the program office to get “one more capability, one more tool” to operators on the ground so that it is available whenever needed.

The service will need to figure out how to take such efforts in individual program offices and utilize them at scale for all its systems, Roper added, noting “we have a lot of software in the Air Force.”