DOD needs to ‘decouple’ hardware and software, deputy CIO says

The DOD needs to "decouple" software and hardware development to be able to update the capabilities of systems faster, said Peter Ranks, thee Pentagon's deputy CIO for information enterprise.
Peter Ranks, Deputy CIO, DOD
Peter Ranks speaks March 11, 2020, at the IT Modernization Summit presented by FedScoop. (Scoop News Group)

The Department of Defense should move away from acquiring singular systems with hardware and software in one. Instead, the department needs platforms that can be constantly redesigned through continuous software updates, said Peter Ranks, deputy CIO for information enterprise.

Better use of software is a key part of the new “Joint All Domain Operations” doctrine being developed by the department to link operations jointly across the military and the domains of air, land, sea, cyber and space, Ranks said at FedScoop’s IT Modernization summit Wednesday.

“We are going to need software to glue those things together,” he said, adding that the ability to maneuver across domains seamlessly and quickly will keep the U.S. ahead of its adversaries on the battlefield. “We can’t count on advantage from the overwhelming superiority of one platform,” Ranks said of weapons systems and other hardware the DOD uses in warfare. Adversaries’ “tools are going to be as good as our tools.”

The DOD needs to “decouple” software and hardware development to be able to update the capabilities of systems faster, he explained. For the DOD, “hardware” means something different than it might for traditional businesses or even civilian agencies: weapons systems, fighter jets and unmanned vehicles, to name a few examples.


Currently, DOD’s software development and acquisition has been stymied by antiquated policy and processes designed to buy things like tanks. The vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff once went as far as calling software acquisition in the DOD a “nightmare.”

However, Ranks said Wednesday that fixing these issues will translate to better chances on the battlefield.

In modernizing other tools like cloud services, Ranks said, the DOD needs to work toward “cloud mastery.” The difference between how the cloud will impact other agencies and how it will impact the DOD is that the military will depend on it to help deter and defeat adversaries in war.

The technical link for Joint All Domain Operations is the Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2. Ranks told FedScoop after his speech that DOD is still trying to sort out the precise details of exactly what “all domain” will mean and how JADC2 will link everything together.

“It is going be a combination of trying to influence older programs as well as pivot acquisitions of new programs,” he said.

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