The C-17 is widely considered to be the most versatile cargo aircraft and requires frequent software changes. To meet the continuously evolving demands of the C-17 aircraft in a more robust and agile fashion, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s C-17 Program Office recently awarded a $17.6 million contract to Boeing to move from a waterfall model for software delivery to a more agile Continuous Delivery Model.
The new contract, awarded as part of the long term C-17 Globemaster III Integrated Sustainment Program (GISP) contract with Boeing, is a cost-plus fixed-fee level of effort contract, requiring two annual deliveries of software updates. “The new contract’s structure allows the government the flexibility to accommodate emergent or priority software updates if required, and allows for software updates to be developed and fielded based on their complexity, rather than waiting until the end of a large effort,” explained Cassi Harrison, C-17 Software Program Manager.
Previously, these software updates were fielded as part of large multi-year projects, composed of many individual fixes across the entire aircraft, bundled together into a single update. The software changes within an individual project would vary in complexity, but even the simplest changes would not be released to the field until the entire project was complete. That caused software update requests to stay open for up to six years before the warfighter would see the update.
The new software Continuous Delivery Model is a flexible method of rapidly delivering software capability to warfighters leveraging agile software development processes and a level of effort contract.
This effort was enabled by Boeing’s experience in agile software development where the development team breaks down software products into short “sprints.” Completing the work in sprints allows for faster updates, and now with the revolutionary Continuous Delivery Model, those updates are pushed to the field much faster than before.
“Agile software development requires cooperation and adaptation on the part of the government and contractors alike,” said Ray Rangel, C-17 Software Engineer. “The Waterfall Model has been the default model for so long that it takes a real commitment by everyone involved to make the change successful. Fortunately, we have had that in the C-17 enterprise.”
The first delivery of the new model is expected in April 2021, with two deliveries per year thereafter. The Program Office team feels confident that through continuous monitoring and coordination, this new software delivery model will allow for improved support to the C-17.
“Ultimately, the new delivery model provides capability required by our partners and allies in a shorter time,” said Col. Scott Ekstrom, AFLCMC C-17 System Program Manager. The C-17 team continues to gain lessons from implementing this innovative software delivery approach. This not only improves the process but also distributes best practices for use across the enterprise.