The U.S. Air Force updated software code on a Lockheed Martin [LMT] U-2 reconnaissance plane in-flight on Oct. 16, according to Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper.

“Friday, a U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane updated code during flight–a military first!” Roper said via Twitter on Oct. 19. Roper said that the two updates involved a “docker containment generating log files” and “improved target recognition algorithms.”

Jeannine Abira, U-2 Federal Laboratory director of advanced mathematics and algorithm development. and Jesse Angle, U-2 Federal Laboratory technical director, work on a computer, Sept. 21, 2020, at Beale AFB, Calif. The U-2 Federal Laboratory is a 15 U.S.C. compliant organization that promotes “edge development,” a concept to develop new software integration on operational systems. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

The U-2 Federal Laboratory at Beale AFB, Calif. used a Sandia Labs Electro Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Automatic Target Recognition software package for the U-2’s EO/IR sensor during the flight, the Air Force said. Because of the “docker containment,” the EO/IR software could not affect other software on the plane during the flight.

The Air Force’s Air Combat Command at Langley AFB, Va., has been testing a Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) that uses open-source container-orchestration systems, such as the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s (CNCF) Kubernetes, originally designed by Google [GOOGL], for improving cybersecurity through the automation of computer application deployment, scaling, and management.

The flight computers on the U-2 have been able to use Kubernetes to run advanced machine learning algorithms without any impact on the aircraft’s flight or mission systems, the Air Force said this month (Defense Daily, Oct. 12).

Nicolas Chaillan, who has been the Air Force’s first Chief Software Officer since 2018, has said that before he helped establish the DoD DevSecOps (development, security, and operations) reference design, the Pentagon had been using “Waterfall” software methodologies that led to the slow fielding of software–once every three to 10 years.

Last fall, the SoniKube team at Hill AFB, Utah, installed Kubernetes on legacy hardware aboard a Lockheed Martin  F-16 fighter within 45 days and demonstrated the functioning of Kubernetes on the F-16 for Roper. Chaillan said that the testing marked a step toward allowing the jets to adopt improved warfighting capabilities quickly to respond to needs in the field.

ACC’s Directorate of Cyberspace and Information Dominance (A6) has taken the lead on ZTA, which will likely use Identity Credential Access Management (ICAM) and Common Access Card (CAC) credentials to help identify those trying to access Air Force information systems and the source point of the access.

In the first test of Kubernetes on an operational weapon system last month, flight computers on the U-2 were able to use Kubernetes to run advanced machine learning algorithms without any impact on the aircraft’s flight or mission systems, the Air Force said recently (Defense Daily, Oct. 12).

Chaillan said in a statement on the U-2’s use of Kubernetes that “the successful combination of the U-2’s legacy computer system with the modern Kubernetes software was a critical milestone for the development of software containerization on existing Air Force weapon systems.”

In April, Lockheed Martin received a $50 million contract to give the U-2 an upgraded avionics system, Avionics Tech Refresh (ATR), which uses Open Mission Systems (OMS). This upgrade will be completed and tested in 2022.