DOD Software Stretched Too Far?

WASHINGTON (05/16/2000) - A study on software problems plaguing major weapons systems could result in the Pentagon investing more money in computer research and development, according to Hans Mark, the Pentagon's director of defense research and engineering.

The Defense Study Board is exploring why major systems, such as the Crusader self-propelled howitzer and the F-22 fighter aircraft, are continually plagued with software problems, Mark said.

He refused to reveal what the study might recommend, but he hinted that the Pentagon could get back into the business of funding computer R&D, possibly in automated computer code writing, which the U.S. Department of Defense currently leaves almost entirely to the private sector.

"When I got back to the Pentagon this time, one of the first things that struck me was how every major program we have has software problems," Mark told the audience at a National Defense Industrial Association science and technology conference held May 9 - 11 at The Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland. "We may very well be back in the business of conducting research on computers."

The Pentagon largely leaves computer development to the private sector, but it is possible that the military fails to properly manage systems requiring numerous lines of codes, Mark said.

One problem, he suggested, is that the military spends as little as possible on computer hardware, meaning it buys systems too small for the task and has to stretch the software's capabilities. Furthermore, there might be some scientific problem intrinsic to all major military systems that systems developers are not grasping.

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