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US Air Force announces plans to update fighter jet software in mid flight


Updating any software over the air is difficult, but when it’s a $175 million lethal weapons system, and in the age of autonomous AI’s, the stakes and rewards are much much higher.


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Recently, I talked about a new technology that lets governments refuel satellites in orbit in order to keep them operational for longer, and now as military equipment follows in the footsteps of other equipment and vehicle systems and becomes more software than hardware based, with a good recent example being an Artificial Intelligence (AI) that trashed US top guns in a simulated dog fight, the US military have announced that they’re looking to find new ways to update jet fighters in mid flight.


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One of the Pentagon’s key software development leaders said the Air Force is “getting ready for a significant showcase” of the service’s ability to push out software updates to war fighters on the fly in the coming weeks.

“We’re working on pretty cool announcements coming in the next few weeks with the ability to update the software of a jet while flying,” Nicolas Chaillan, chief software officer for the US Air Force, said during a webinar Tuesday. “So that’s the kind of stuff that will be game changing.” And it will be even more game changing when that software has its own AI mind that can design, code, and evolve itself millions of times in real time as we’ve already seen happen elsewhere – including in the field of evolutionary robotics.


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Chaillan declined to get into specifics, but the demonstration could serve as a proof of concept for DevSecOps that would show how software updates can be pushed safely and securely to war fighters in real time. He mentioned the demo in response to a moderator question asking whether expectations for what innovative digital architectures can accomplish are too high.

Chaillan leads the Defense Department’s DevSecOps initiative, which includes a team called Platform One and a cloud solution called Cloud One. The initiative aims to simplify and speed up software development across DOD.


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The idea is to create a centralised location with baked-in security protocols so that developers can deploy software updates on condensed timelines, ideally multiple times a day. The initiative relies on an open-sourced system for the orchestration of hardened containers called Kubernetes. Cloud One uses cloud services provided both by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure.

The Air Force pulled off a successful demonstration highlighting the importance of Cloud One earlier this month during an exercise that brought participants together to simulate blowing up a cruise missile. According to Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and sustainment, Cloud One was the key technology that enabled the success of the exercise.


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“The star of the show was the data that enabled its kill chain to take effect…enabled by data going into a cloud, being transported over 4G and 5G communications at machine speeds to culminate in a kill chain that took seconds, not minutes or hours to complete,” Roper said.

Chaillan explained a few more ideas and priorities during the webinar he is mulling to improve the development process across the department. He indicated Cloud One may be expanding to include more providers, and named Google as a potential contender, and he also talked about the need to get more of the agency’s workforce up to speed DevSecOps.


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“I would say we’re probably at 20 percent of where we need to be mostly because of scale,” Chaillan said. “We have pockets of talent on every major program, but it’s still just pockets and that’s just not good enough.”

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