A novel solution to a complex command and control system
The U.S. Army had a problem.
Since 1981, the Army's Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) has provided command and control functions for the Army, the Marine Corps, and allied militaries — collecting target data from front-line sensors, pairing fire missions with fire support assets, assigning fire missions, and updating forces on the effect of those missions. The software written to perform all of this work, however, started to show its age.
From concept to implementation, it took 15 years to field the first version of AFATDS. Since its creation, AFATDS underwent 13 separate upgrades, with new code layered upon old. By 2010, the software behind AFATDS comprised an amalgam of "14 or 16 different coding languages," explains Jack Gumbert, Leidos Vice President and Mission Support Division Manager. The software got the job done, but the code that made this possible was, itself, a "pile of spaghetti" — expensive to maintain and difficult to upgrade.
This posed a problem for the Army as it approached a 2020 deadline for fielding a new version of AFATDS, dubbed AFATDS V7.0. How could the code be upgraded to provide the "same capability" as the existing version, but streamlined and "modernized to a new software baseline" to facilitate additional upgrades in the future? How could AFATDS be made "flexible" and "extendable" to incorporate new weapons systems under development, and stay relevant far into the future?
The Army reached out to Leidos for the answer.
Solving problems — on a budget
The solution Leidos proposed for the Army, while novel, is one the company had already used to build software for more than a dozen clients in defense, energy, and healthcare.
This solution, LEAF (Leidos Enterprise Application Framework), is a set of reusable software components that allow teams to rapidly build and modernize solutions at prices comparable to those of generic, commercial-off-the-shelf products. LEAF provides customers with an agile and customized solution at a fraction of the price of bespoke software. Additionally, Leidos built LEAF in-house with its own internal research and development funds, so LEAF-built software includes no additional licensing costs for the customer.
In the case of AFATDS, Leidos offered to build a fire support system capable of doing all the same things the Army's existing AFATDS could do — sensor input and analysis, fire support allocation, and attack analysis — but easier to upgrade and expand to encompass future needs.
As with the existing AFATDS system, the improved product would continue to interoperate with more than 80 different battlefield systems — not just systems native to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, but including U.S. Navy and Air Force command and control systems, and fire-support systems operated by the German, French, Turkish, Italian, and other NATO militaries. And because Leidos knew that LEAF could cut software costs by as much as 50%, it offered to build a new version of AFATDS on a budget.
Meeting the customer where they are
Leidos made big promises, but was more than willing to demonstrate its ability to deliver. Working with the Army from its co-located offices at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Leidos invested several years in building a prototype AFATDS upgrade for the Army to test. Then, after the Army "kicked the tires," Leidos solicited feedback on how to make AFATDS even better.
Leidos incorporated these upgrades into a second prototype for the Army — before it had even won a contract, and before asking for any money. Relying solely on funding from its own internal research and development program, Leidos built a program that met the Army's needs, and then awaited its decision.
"We did this," says Gumbert, "because we knew the Army was looking for more than just a software provider, but for a trusted partner and a teammate."
By investing its own resources in its customer's success, and checking along the way to ensure the customer was pleased with the result, Leidos sought to do two things. First, the development team showed the Army that it could trust Leidos to understand its needs. And second, the team proved that Leidos was in the project for the long term. By beginning work before a contract was even awarded, Leidos demonstrated that it would remain on the task for the long term and continue to innovate and improve AFATDS for years to come.
Leidos "is always going to bring the innovation” says Gumbert. And in cases like AFATDS, they’ll bring the research and development dollars, too, keeping costs down – and helping customers achieve their missions.