Air Force wants to make 'Kessel Run' standard in tech acquisition

software (whiteMocca/ 

The Air Force's chief technology officer wants to make sure all of its tech deals mimic its agile software development model Kessel Run.

"You're probably going to see maybe a directive from us that basically says every acquisition is going to have to have something that looks like Kessel Run from the primes. So you want to have [authority to operate] within three or four weeks, not six years," Air Force CTO Frank Konieczny said at the Dell Digital Transformation Summit in Pentagon City, Va., Oct. 3.

The Air Force has been pushing for broad organizational change when it comes to adopting new technology, as evidenced by the newly launched digital program executive office to handle agile software development.

The shift in focus has generated attention in Congress. During a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on cyber operational readiness on Sept. 26, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked Defense Department's Principal Deputy CIO Essye Miller how to best replicate Kessel Run's in-house coding units throughout the organization to improve cyber operations.

"So we're trying to build this in-house. I think that makes a lot of sense; I'm glad to hear it," Warren said. "But getting the Kessel Run lab up and running was not easy. I understand there was some real resistance within segments of the department," she said. "How can we normalize and scale these types [of] programs up and make technical skills like coding or cyber defense a core competency for active duty personnel and defense civilians?"

Miller testified it was one of the top skill sets the DOD is seeking to recruit. But Marines Corps Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall, DOD's principal deputy cyber and senior military advisor for cyber policy, said the lack of tools and standardization were barriers to making that happen.

"We spend a lot of time and frustration in the department trying to make disparate software applications communicate with each other," Crall said, noting the department needed the right developers, toolkits, coding infrastructure and standardization.

Young workers are "screaming for ways to contribute, and we are taking that on board and showing great promise, but there's a lot of work ahead."

During his panel talk, Konieczny said that in this case, the human element puts a kink in long-term success of agile software development.

To help address the issue, the Air Force is considering bringing back programming as a career field, but that won't solve everything, he said.

"You're going to have some turnover all the time, so the code has to be in such a way that you can pick it up and utilize it -- putting some standardization across the code," which will help push products out faster, he said.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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