HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE – Four people from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center tasked with acquiring the sensitive software used to plan and execute nuclear deterrence operations created a way to test new software using real-world, classified data, saving the government millions since 2014.
The Integrated Strategic Planning and Analysis Network consists of 17 applications built by five contractors. The ISPAN develops employment options for national leadership. In order to function, the 17 applications must work together seamlessly, but there’s no way to comprehensively test this without access to actual data on protected systems.
In 2012, the AFLCMC Battle Management Directorate’s Command and Control Division began a major modernization effort for U.S. Strategic Command, and needed a way to fully test the system using real-world data.
“Part of the problem was the type of data, and part of the problem was trusting the location in which contractors handle the data,” said Bruce Van Zuiden, ISPAN’s chief of Infrastructure Management at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, where the testing system was set up. “All software inherently has some bugs. When found late in the software development lifecycle, defects can cost, on average, about $10,000 to fix. Finding them early saves us that money, but it also helps the contractors build us better code from the get-go.”
In order to provide a space where contractors could bring their unfinished products to perform early integration testing, Van Zuiden and a team of three support contractors spent $1.5 million on servers that would exist inside a secure facility.
The first servers were activated in 2012 and use a few tricks used by Silicon Valley cloud hosts such as Amazon and Microsoft.
“We can simulate 967 machines from here during software tests,” said Van Zuiden. “That’s where we get a lot of the value.”
The Secured Server Facility will also simulate upcoming changes to USSTRATCOM’s computing architecture before it goes live, ensuring no interruption in capability. According to the program office, software and hardware interface problems frequently lead to schedule delays and increased costs when acquiring large computer systems. With the new testing system, the program office encountered only one issue with a non-compliant interface in three years, which the contractor quickly resolved.
“The companies working for us need a place to test their products before milestones, and before they deliver a finished product,” said Ray Clark, ISPAN program management support contractor. “Before this facility, we would use simulated and sanitized data, but it wasn’t the same. This testing platform is like the difference between learning to fly in a simulator and piloting an aircraft in the air. We’re making better products using it.”
ISPAN is currently in its fourth increment, and the budget baseline is approximately $150 million. The program office expects it will meet initial operational capability in October 2018.