Air Force opens up to non-proprietary software

The Air Force has embarked on a software acquisition and development program aimed at increasing efficiency and reducing lifecycle costs by enabling the reuse of applications’ components.

Charles Riechers, the Air Force’s principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, said the program's strategy is to “encourage the use of open standards, open data interfaces and best-of-breed open source software solutions.”

“We are not mandating either open or proprietary solutions,” Riechers said last week at a luncheon in Vienna, Va., sponsored by the Northern Virginia chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. “But if you’re not using open standards, you have to tell me that and there better be a damn good reason why not. Proprietary technology is okay as long as it based on an informed decision.”

Riechers said he would like a software development process that is controlled, traceable and auditable with standard management processes. Part of the Air Force’s strategy will be to acquire commercial software.

“[Commercial software] is cheaper as long as you use it the way it was designed to be used,” Riechers said. “You can’t start tweaking it or it drives up the costs.”

Acquiring intellectual property rights also is an element of the acquisition strategy, he said.

“We want to pay for unique intellectual property and with the Air Force exercising data rights,” Riechers said. “But when the time comes to go with someone else who has the next great idea, we don’t want to have to pay you to get out. There has to an exit strategy.”

Riechers also advocated moving toward “an increased competitive, collaborative and interoperable environment across the services and industry for technology development.”

“This strategy will help to minimize redundant development efforts and enable more agile development and deployment of systems,” he said.

Ultimately, Riechers added, “companies begin to reuse software code as a starting point” in the software development process.

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