Streamlining Process to Better Align Capability and Strategy

Col. Paul Weizer
Program Executive Officer
PEO-SOF Digital Applications

From Armor & Mobility, May 2021

Armor & Mobility spoke with Col. Paul Weizer, Program Executive Officer for SOF Digital Applications, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), MacDill Air Force Base, FL, regarding some of USSOCOM’s focus efforts to align military software acquisition to mirror the best business practices currently used in the commercial industry.

A&M: With its inception in June 2020, what are the primary challenges that PEO SDA is and looks to address for USSOCOM?

Col. Weizer: The primary challenge Program Executive Office-SOF Digital Applications (PEO-SDA) looks to address this year is process. From requirements to budget to acquisition, we are upending all of the traditional bureaucratic processes and that makes people uncomfortable. We are spending a tremendous amount of time socializing the new Department of Defense software acquisition pathway. The intent of this change is to align software acquisition in the military to mirror the best business practices currently used in the commercial industry. It is fast paced and replaces most of the serial development strategies of the past with a more collaborative and agile approach that keeps all stakeholders tightly integrated in order to make rapid decisions during highly dynamic development sprints. This requires shared buy-in and willingness to tradeoff priorities in lieu of speed and agility. There will still be rigor to the development process, but it is controlled at much lower levels, and focuses on user-centric design.

A&M: In terms of USSOCOM investment in software/digital capabilities to combat violent extremist organizations and nation-state backing of these, what are some examples of PEO SDA focus that are better facilitating legacy to hi-tech maturation?

Col. Weizer: PEO-SDA is leveraging various commercial-off-the-shelf software toolsets to meet many of our requirements. By acquiring commercial products through purchase or licensing, we eliminate longer development timelines and provide capabilities immediately to our users. This approach also allows us to seek and acquire best-of-breed technologies without the sunk cost of development and lifecycle maintenance. It becomes easier to switch and replace capabilities as new technologies become available to meet everchanging requirements.

A&M: From an Agile Acquisition Framework’s Software Acquisition Pathway perspective, how are you basing integration or divestment decision making in moving life-cycle sustainment into next-generation application?

Col. Weizer: There is always going to be the factor of cost and budget with respect to product management and life-cycle sustainment: Make or buy? Sustain or replace? PEO-SDA is not exempt from the task of controlling costs while providing leading-edge technologies to our SOF warfighters. That said, software is a very competitive marketplace relatively easy to enter; talent, a computer, and an internet connection make you a software developer. Access to non-traditional industry partners opens new opportunity for innovation and technological advancement while also enabling cost control. PEO-SDA will be able to harness an almost limitless supply of talent to help reduce risk while ensuring smart life-cycle management decisions.

A&M: Feel free to speak to other challenges or goals moving forward.

Col. Weizer: Another specific challenge PEO-SDA faces is the delivery of a Minimum Viable Capability Release (MVCR) for U.S. Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM’s) Mission Command System / Common Operational Picture (MCS/COP) by this time next year. MCS/COP is the first USSOCOM program of record being executed under the Department of Defense’s Software Acquisition Pathway, and PEO-SDA is committed to delivering the MVCR within one year of a contract award. As you can imagine, that’s a significant challenge when you’re talking about the delivery of a brand new system-of-systems that must meet requirements for all USSOCOM commanders worldwide, but we started smartly, with risk reduction Other Transaction Authority (OTA) protype agreements in fiscal year 2020 that supported our first-ever use of the Commercial Sources Opening (CSO) process which utilized a four-phase down-select approach that rewarded industry partners for providing and demonstrating innovative solutions to solve our complex Mission Command problem sets. We are now proceeding into production OTA agreements this fiscal year that should continue to reduce risk and maximize capability delivered. The key will be constant user involvement during the development sprints over the next year to ensure the software matures to meet the needs of our operators.