Hill supports warfighters with software products

  • Published
  • By G. A. Volb
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Simulated warfare found in popular video games can take months of detailed planning and encoding.

In the real world, the lives of American warfighters rely on quality software products. Factoring in the Department of Defense's need for flawless systems management in support of the real deal gives the mission of the 309th Software Maintenance Group based here a more formidable undertone demanding years of production time.

The difference between what's seen in video games and what the 309th SMG builds is that most of what this unit does is not as graphics-oriented or fast-paced as video games, said David Webb, a 309th SMG senior technical program manager for new workloads.

"Instead, our software runs the ballistics calculations for dropping weapons, handling communications between various units, or providing pilot displays for speed, target, status and so forth," Mr. Webb said.

Mr. Webb compared the software to that which runs a car. The operator of the car might not realize that software is running, but yet the car depends upon the software to make the car work.

"Software we've developed has often made the difference in recent combat actions in the Middle East," said Kevin Tjoland, a 309th SMG senior technical program manager. "Pilots have extolled the capabilities of the jets powered by software developed at Hill by giving them the precision capabilities they need to fight effectively and precisely.

"With navigation pods, data links and guided weapons, F-16 (Fighting Falcon) pilots have been able to put weapons directly on target time and time again to avoid collateral damage, which helps limit enemy opposition and U.S. combat casualties," Mr. Tjoland said. 

"The software we create is a key component in the capabilities our warfighters and other associated logistics support systems need. The weapon systems we use are very much software intensive," Mr. Cain said 

It's not unusual for software development or updates for a weapon system to take upward of 18 months or longer to complete, including crafting 200 to 500 thousand lines of code and testing throughout the development cycle. Only after completing extremely detailed testing is the final product delivered to the customer. It's a procedure the members of the 309th SMG excels at by virtue of its leaned processes and quality products.

Evidence of the unit's success can be traced to the Capability Maturity Model Integration Level 5 Rating for Software Development award. The 309th SMG staff earned the honor from Carnegie Mellon University in 2006.

That award means the unit produces software the nation's 21st century warfighting machine can rely on. It's a process improvement approach providing organizations with the essential elements of effective processes, according to a CMU's Software Engineering Institute official. By helping integrate traditionally separate organizational functions, and setting process improvement goals and priorities, guidance for quality processes is provided. These elements are essential given the intricate nature of the business.

Mr. Cain said they laid the foundation for that success in 2004, when they began the transition from a previous model of engineering best-practices known as the Capability Maturity Model, or CMM.

"The changes themselves were not overly difficult since we were already a process-oriented organization," Mr. Cain said. "But they did take time to become institutionalized, which is part of the Capability Maturity Model Integration requirement."

"It's a challenging job, but from my perspective, keeping 20-year-old aircraft relevant and meeting the warfighter's demands are accomplished via continual software upgrades, among other things," Mr. Tjoland said, "If you have flown any flight simulator software on a personal computer or video game console, it would give you a good example of what we do, except for the fact that the software we create controls real bombs, missiles and guns."

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