Mil-OSS working group 2 wrap-up

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Open source in the military

Openness in the military is coming of-age, as was evident to the attendees at the 2nd Military Open Source Software (Mil-OSS) working group held August 3-5 in Arlington, Virginia. This grassroots gathering of practitioners in the art/science of creating military capabilities was unique in its inclusive atmosphere of government civilians, military uniformed (and retired) personnel, government contractors, and university academics. All gathered with one goal:

how to more rapidly create and deploy military capabilities utilizing open source software for the U.S. Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine.

What was interesting was a shift from the attitude at last years meeting of: "We can use open source software in the military?" to this years vibe of "How can we use, modify, sustain, and create more open source software around the military?" In the last year, since the update of DoD Open Source policy (see the 2009 DoD Open Source Memo), there has been an important shift in understanding that the benefits of being open vastly outweigh the hassles and foibles of closed and gated source code development--especially when the U.S. taxpayer is picking up the tab. Roadblock issues were brought up, such as:

- What are the best practices for how to run unclassified code communities for a classified client?

- How do we create, fund, and sustain development of open source?

- How do we generate more ideas on how to fix and deal with the government's acquisition system?

The military-focused OSS projects in attendance ran the gamut, from the long-established computer-aided design project BRL-CAD, to cyber (Suricata), modeling and simulation (Delta3D), geospatial (OMAR & OSSIM), and new projects such as EurekaStreams and the to-be-released Analysis of Competing Hypotheses. Presenters and the three tracks were almost too numerous; see MIL-OSS 2 Agenda for details.

The kickoff keynote was Lt. General Elder (retired), who reviewed cyber issues facing the military (video). Subsequent military keynotes discussed internal military community collaboration (Lt. Col. Allen of MilSuite), an update on the need to simplify information technologies acquisitions and deployment processes in the military (Maj. Neushul - Update on Keeping it Stupid Stupid), and a review of the current state of OSS in the DoD (Dan Risacher - DoD OSS Review).

Defensive Homeland security, OSS, and cyber issues were reviewed by Doug Maughan of DHS (Homeland Open Security Technologies) and contrasted by HD Moore of Rapid7/Metasploit who went over Open Source Cyber Weaponry.

Most presentations can be found on Slideshare at Mil-OSS WG2 Meeting. Selected presenters can be found on Vimeo.

A great addition at lunch were the many Ignite sessions, such as Gunnar Hellekson's "Fighting Forks [in DoD]" and Maj. Neushul's talk about the need for a functioning Combat Relevant Position Location Information (CRPLI) capability for the Marines.

An unexpected shout-out for WG2 came from Wired's Dangerroom (Noah Shachtman) who interviewed presenter Mathew Burton on his soon-to-be-released open source project: Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, which is "a system for organizing information that would help analysts think about complex problems more objectively, even when confronted with mountains of evidence." He called it Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, or ACH.

The ball seems to be rolling on releasing or converting military or intelligence source code as pure open source software.

By the third day, it was time for something unplanned: Barcamp, which basically split into two groups: projects and process. Project discussions included CRPLI and the Ozone Widget Framework (being used by the DoD Storefront project). The process track was mainly focused on issues around how to use, develop, and sustain OSS projects tied to the military.

A challenge was issued at the barcamp lunch in response to the need for a canonical set of briefing charts detailing the value of open source software for the military, from security to basic definitions to legal issues. All-in-all, about 100 briefing charts were created and will soon be made available to the community to use/modify/tweak as needed.

Future of Mil-OSS

The future of software in the military was a much discussed and argued topic, but one key issue agreed upon by all was the continued need for community building and collaboration. There was consensus for a Mil-OSS large annual gathering coupled with regional grassroots meetings and/or barcamps. There are rumors of proposed camps in Boston, New Orleans, Charleston, and San Diego. Join the Mil-OSS Google Group to track their progress.

A few reference links for the uninitiated:

Thanks to our amazing sponsors. We really couldn't have put on a great show without you!

And a big thanks to Georgia Tech Research Institute, especially  Josh Davis and Claire Gould, for doing the truly thankless back (breaking) office work of coordinating everything!

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John Scott is a technologist with expertise in engineered systems and bridging the gap between decision-makers, scientists and engineers to develop policies for acquiring and deploying new technologies in the Department of Defense and US Government.

1 Comment

I've been rotating around various modernization projects within the DoD trying to find one that is well managed. What I have found is complete chaos. Vendors with enterprise solutions selling a bill of goods to department heads that have no technical background is just the beginning. The worst of it are administrative managers in technical management roles who do not understand the technology they are managing and pseudo technical people administrating DBMSs and/or building data warehouses who do not understand the simple concept of normalizing a table. Having witnessed the handful of million dollar projects in these situations, I am highly pessimistic about any open-source, enterprise re-vamp working for any DoD system. No one at the think-tank level is acknowledging the dysfunctional data systems underneath that are going to cause all modernization efforts to fail.

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