The Defense Department (DoD) needs to pick up the pace on its development and delivery of weapon systems software or face the possibility of Pentagon programs missing out on the benefits of modernization, according to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) annual assessment of DoD’s weapons acquisitions.

DoD has been building on modernization initiatives over the past year, with DoD leadership emphasizing key practices, GAO said.

“However, most of the 39 programs that reported using a modern software development approach deliver working software for user feedback more slowly than recommended by industry’s Agile practices, which call for rapid, frequent delivery of software and fast feedback cycles,” wrote GAO.

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GAO also found that cybersecurity for weapons systems is a critical area for DoD that needs to be improved, and that DoD programs are not fully implementing recommended cybersecurity practices.

In this year’s annual report, GAO analyzed 63 of DoD’s costliest weapon system acquisition programs, including:

  • 40 major defense acquisition programs (MDAP);
  • Four future major weapon acquisitions; and
  • 19 programs using the middle tier of acquisition pathway for rapid prototyping and rapid fielding efforts.

The report notes that MDAPs continue to struggle with schedule delays and that over half of the 29 MDAPs haven’t delivered capability reported delays. A lack of future year funding data in the fiscal year 2022 budget request prevented GAO from assessing the MDAP portfolio’s cost performance this year.

GAO made two recommendations to DoD, both of which were agreed to. They are:

  • Updating DoD’s industrial base assessment instruction to define the circumstances that would constitute a known or projected problem or risk; and
  • Updating DoD’s industrial base assessment instruction and acquisition policies to specify industrial base assessment requirements that apply to programs using AAF pathways.

DoD’s struggles in modernizing weapon systems software aren’t new. Last year, GAO’s annual assessment found that DoD was struggling to implement and execute modern software development practices.

“DOD made efforts to improve in these areas, such as working to update its software and cybersecurity instructions and provide guidance on Agile software development practices,” the 2021 report said. “However, we found that the majority of programs we surveyed continue to face challenges in executing modern software development practices and many programs we surveyed are challenged in implementing iterative and early cybersecurity assessments.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.