Fence in, your brain is about to acquire some intel!
The Digital Trinity
Nearly two years ago, the Air Force released their idea of a “digital trinity.”

Last year, (then) Air Force acquisition lead Will Roper followed this up with his vision for applying the idea with a new digital acquisition strategy, aka his Matrix-themed digital acquisition manifesto. This week we’re checking in to see how it's all going.

How it Started
Once you get past the 19 pages of green font, Matrix movie quotes, analogies, and other detours, the digital acquisition strategy boils down to the following digital trinity:
  • agile software
  • open architecture
  • digital engineering
Don’t confuse the trinity in the intro with the chaff on the last page - which kind of describes three hopeful outcomes: (1) own, share, and furnish the tech stack and its reference architecture; (2) warp from the tech stack to edge effortlessly; and (3) eCreate before you Aviate.

How it's going
OK, let's break each part of the trinity down and debrief them with our 100% subjective opinion. #wehavethepens

Agile Software: Take a look at the number of organic software factories that have popped up across the Air and Space Forces in the past couple of years.
They’re all working on certain pieces of the Rubik’s Cube that is the Air Force, and some are actually working on weapons systems. TBH, we want to hate on this for the geeky names, but what they’ve been able to achieve is pretty badass….and at lightspeed in Pentagon terms.

That said, it isn’t too hard to do this when you own the tech stack and the intellectual property (IP) of the weapon system you are trying to improve.

Our completely subjective grade: B

Open Architecture: Almost all current weapons systems are run by software that is unique to the respective hardware vendor. The concept of moving away from this and towards an open-source standard, known as Government Reference Architecture (GRA), has been around for a decade. 

Only recently has the Pentagon started to notice though—that blinding flash of the obvious was commercial industry zipping by in the fast lane.

This is extremely hard to integrate into existing programs due to the way the incumbent vendor’s product profit model was established, IP concerns, and challenges about losing competitive advantages.

With GRA (or any other grey box concepts), the focus is shifted on the outcomes of the product, not the IP within the product. This approach appeases IP concerns, but it has to be baked into the beginning of a program so companies understand the monetization strategy (i.e. the opposite of today’s approach).

Without GRA, government-owned IP, or some kind of open mission systems, vendor lock will continue to kill any ability to implement agile and DevSecOps processes. #gameover

Our completely subjective grade: D

Digital Engineering: The final and most complicated element of the digital trinity was how to actually truncate formerly real-world activities. The guidebook started with 14 tenets in January, which was trumped in May with a new memo outlining seven attributes of digital engineering.

While you can digitize the design and production of a widget, it's orders-of-magnitude harder to click a button to analyze the fluid dynamics and flight sciences of that widget. Digital engineering is only as good as the models and computations that underpin it, and the ability to interconnect sim-to-fly-to-sim informed model loops is still very nascent.

For the near term, expect to see platform sub-components earning the e-Program stamp of approval (B-52 engines, F-15EX wings and nose barrel, etc.).

Our completely subjective grade: e-for-effort
In That Number

The global ranking of broadband internet speed in the US. The winner of back-to-back world wars clocked an average of 192 Mbps (download speed), which is double the global average…but trails Singapore (#1) and South Korea (#2) who both clocked in at 25% faster.

See below for why we highlighted this topic
Trivia: Kleenex, the global brand synonymous with facial tissue, was originally developed to solve what military problem?
On the Radar
A person at a D.C. think tank believes the Swiss government’s decision to purchase the F-35A reveals critical flaws in the U.S. Air Force decision to buy F-15EX and recommends that Congress direct an independent study. Cool story, but it's missing some info. 1) OSD CAPE ultimately makes these decisions—not the services. 2) CAPE is independent and objective, by design. 3) There have already been several fighter (i.e. “TacAir”) studies done in recent years. 4) This doesn’t include the six ongoing studies looking at the same thing.

Space-based internet has quickly gone from promise to product. While the average high-speed broadband internet connection in the US is 192 Mbps, some uses of SpaceX’s Starlink have reported double that speed. Not to be outdone, start-up Akash recently claimed it's the world’s fastest X-band satellite communication at 650 Mbps…from a palm-sized radio. Gamer geeks everywhere are imagining what game lag this has; warfighters everywhere are imagining what target latency this might have.
They Said It
“Innovation doesn’t come from within the defence sector the way it used.”

— NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges David van Weel announcing the €1 billion non-profit defense VC fund and tech accelerator called the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA).

The DIANA accelerator should be operational in 2023, will be run by professional VC investors, and will have offices in both Europe and the US.
Zoom In
If you think the digital acquisition of weapons systems is hard, imagine how hard it is to envision, develop, acquire, field, integrate, manage, and sustain the multi-domain digital threads that connect them all—information systems and data links. Zoom in here for an excellent dive into the world of how Cold War bureaucracies—in the Pentagon and Congress—fail to meet the requirements to connect the 21st-century warfighter. 
Saved Rounds
  • Shield AI buys Heron Systems, aka the company whose AI beat a fighter pilot in a dogfight as part of DARPA’s ACE challenge
  • The Air Force signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) that will let commercial companies use (and improve) an Air Force-developed vulnerability-detection software called Whiddler 
  • The Marine Corps is testing 7-inch-long drones that can be fired from a grenade launcher to do surveillance and/or execute precision strike suicide missions
  • Eurodrone’s twin-turboprop full-scale unmanned ISR aircraft effort gets a $118M funding boost from the EU
  • The UK inks a $268m deal for 13 more General Atomics Protector RPAs (aka Sky Guardian, aka MQ-9B), to replace its current fleet of General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper RPAs
  • Kraus Hamdani Aerospace sets a world record with its group-2 fully electric fixed-wing drone by flying 26 hours non-stop under continuous thrust while carrying a full-motion video payload and radios
  • Google gets tapped to provide the Air Force with cloud-based predictive maintenance software, augmented reality, and more as part of Project Lighthouse
  • L3Harris and an international team will develop surveillance concepts for NATO to replace their fleet of Boeing E-3A AWACS aircraft
  • Kymeta demonstrates how it can autonomously integrate LEO and GEO SATCOM communications
  • DARPA is transitioning its Prototype Resilient Operations Testbed for Expeditionary Urban Scenarios PROTEUS to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (it’s the program that provided insights into the Corps’ decision to axe tanks and towed artillery)
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The 5 Second Debrief
Trivia Answer: Kleenex originated from a demand for cotton alternatives for bandages during World War I. With material quickly running short, the inventive technicians at Kleenex’s company developed a new type of cloth-like fabric to fill that need…which also turned out to be effective filters for gas masks.