Preliminary Observations on DoD Software Research Needs and Priorities

The Committee on Advancing Software-Intensive Systems Producibility (Appendix A) was appointed by the National Research Council (NRC) and convened under the auspices of the NRC’s Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) to assess the nature of the national investment in software research and, in particular, to consider ways to revitalize the knowledge and human resource base needed to design, produce, and employ software-intensive systems for tomorrow’s defense needs.1 The statement of task for the study is as follows:

This study will bring together academic and industry software systems researchers, software and software tool vendors (suppliers), and systems integrators who comprise the community of skills required for future successes in complex software intensive systems required by the DoD. They will

  1. Assess the emerging situation with respect to the national investment in relevant software research, the present state of and future requirements for tools for software production, testing and maintenance, and the adequacy of human resources;

  2. Examine the needs, relationships and interdependencies expected of future DoD software research, development and maintenance needs, and consider what advances are needed for continuous improvements in the design, production and evolution of DoD software intensive systems;

  3. Make recommendations to responsible agency, executive branch and legislative officials, and to the software technical community, about how to improve the present state of affairs and achieve future goals.

On November 16, 2007, following informal discussions with the sponsor, the National Research Council received a written request from the sponsor, the Department of Defense (DoD), for a short letter report in the spring 2008 time frame. This request, which was within the scope of the original charge to the committee, sought preliminary feedback from the committee regarding its observations on DoD needs and priorities for software research as well as research agenda suggestions that would be executable within the DoD’s Science and Technology framework.

In this letter report, the Committee on Advancing Software-Intensive Systems Producibility focuses on three specific questions: First, to what extent is software capability important for DoD? Second, will the advances in software producibility needed by DoD emerge unaided from the defense industrial base (which includes both civilian and defense producers) at a pace sufficient to meet evolving defense requirements? Third, in which technologies should DoD invest in research to advance software producibility? A more comprehensive consideration of these and other questions relating to the advancement of software-intensive systems producibility will be provided in the committee’s final report. The additional questions that will be addressed in the committee’s final report include these: What actions can DoD take to accelerate the pace of innovation in software producibility, where such acceleration is necessary to meet DoD’s particular needs? What are the most pressing research challenges that must be faced to enable DoD to meet its evolving needs? Another important consideration, related to the second question above, merits mention here, to spotlight its importance: What would be some potential consequences for DoD if the leadership in innovation for development of custom software were to move offshore?


Support for this project was provided by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Department of Defense with assistance from the National Science Foundation under sponsor award number CNS-0541636 and by the Office of Naval Research under sponsor award number N00014-04-1-0736.

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