Engaging the Defence Sector with Open Source

Commons for Collins or GPL for Growlers?

Tom Worthington FACS HLM

It Consultant and Adjunct Lecturer, Australian National University

For OpenSA Event, “The Thinking Space” Science Exchange, Adelaide, 5pm 19 April 2010

Free and open source software has obvious benefits, but it can be difficult to explain these to organisations such as the Department of Defence. A brief guide to technology in the defence organisation will be given by a former senior ICT policy adviser. Tips on what to say to who and how to contact defence IT personnel and decision makers will be provided.

Tom Worthington

Tom Worthington and other Defence personnel on the USS Blue Ridge

Tom Worthington took a temporary six month posting at the Defence Department and stayed for nine years, with time in both the military Headquarters Australian Defence Force and the civilian Defence Material Organisation. During that time he got to fly in military aircraft and occasionally wear a borrowed uniform at war games, but spent most time advising on restructuring IT projects, including incorporation of Unix into the Defence computing environment.

Tom provided technical leadership and represented Defence at interdepartmental and industry committees. He was prepared the first Defence policy on Internet information services and managed the first Defence web site and and Ministerial site. He advised on technologies and products for the Defence Common Operating Environment.

Since leaving Defence, Tom has been an independent IT consultant and teaches at the Australian National University. He is an honorary life member, fellow and former president of the ACS, as well as a member of ACM and IEEE-CS. He designed the ACS/ANU/OUA Green Technology Strategies course.

Top Tips for Engaging Defence on Open Source

  1. Sell a product or service, not Open Source
  2. Emphasise: security, interoperability, reliability, adaptability, field tested
  3. Address a need: Thin Clients, Rationalisation of equipment, screens in vehicles, voice/data, composite applications
  4. Administrative applications: education, logistics and finance
  5. Server and web applications: do not try to displace Microsoft from the desktop

Australian Defence Organisation

Emblem of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), also referred to as the Tri-Service Badge

Summarised from: Australian Defence Organisation and Department of Defence, Wikipedia, 2010

Australia has two Ministers responsible for the Defence Portfolio: Minister for Defence and the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. Unlike any other Australian government agency, Defence also has two people jointly managing the organisation: Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) and the Secretary of the Department of Defence. Similarly, at lower levels there are military and civilian personnel in organisation units in the Navy, Army, Air Force and public service with overlapping responsibilities. As a result there is no one area which decides if open source software is used, or not. Also unlike the USA, members of parliament have little direct involvement in equipment purchases: a defence budget is set by parliament and then the Ministers and Defence Department decide how to send it.

Technology Australian Defence

Australian Defence Chief Information Officer Group Organisation Structure Chart

The Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG) is responsible for IT for administrative use and military operations. The Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) acquires military equipment and services, including IT. Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) researches IT for Defence use. The Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) advise on Cyber and Information Security. Many other parts of Defence advise on and acquire computer software. In addition, in many cases Australian defence personnel look to their USA, UK and other allied military and civilian colleagues for advice (and before looking to the Australian Public Service or other Australian organisations).

Open-Source Software in US Defense

Seal of the United States Defense Information Systems Agency.

1,340 documents mentioning "Open Source Software" at site:mil (US DoD)

... FOSS software plays a more critical role in the DoD than has generally been recognized. FOSS applications are most important in four broad areas: Infrastructure Support , Software Development , Security , and Research . ... banning FOSS would have immediate, broad, and strongly negative impacts on the ability of many sensitive and security-focused DoD groups to defend against cyberattacks. ...

From: Use of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) in the U.S. Department of Defense, MITRE Corporation, Report: MP 02 W0000101, Version: 1.2.04, January 2, 2003

... To effectively achieve its missions, the Department of Defense must develop and update its software-based capabilities faster than ever, to anticipate new threats and respond to continuously changing requirements. The use of Open Source Software (OSS) can provide advantages in this regard. This memorandum provides clarifying guidance on the use of OSS ...

From: Clarifying Guidance Regarding Open Source Software (OSS), Memorandum, CIO, Department of Defense, 16 October 2009

Contrary to the commonly held view that Open Source Software is a security risk and therefore banned by the US DoD, a 2003 report from MITRE Corporation found banning FOSS damage security against cyberattacks. This was confirmed in a 2009 memorandum from the US DoD CIO. There are more than a thousand documents on the US DoD public web site mentioning "Open Source Software"

Australian Government OSS Policy

... Major ICT users in both the private and public sectors have used OSS products and solutions in specific areas for many years ... Each agency must determine where open source software may have a role to play according to its own context and priorities. ...

From: Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies, Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), undated

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) issued a Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies, which mimics the US DoD policy in permitting the use of OSS.

Open-Source Software in Australian Defence

Defence Signals Directorate

9 documents mentioning "Open Source Software" at site:defence.gov.au

No Australian defence policy on open source software (OpenSA write some?).

Use of OSS in DSTO.

Forensic and Log Analysis (FLAG), OSS Software promoted by the Defence Signals Directorate

In contrast to the US DoD, the Australian Defence Department has no public policy on the use of OSS. There were only 9 documents mentioning "Open Source Software" at site:defence.gov.au.

As with other parts of government it is the scientific areas which most acknowledge the use of OSS, particularly the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

A notable use of OSS is the Forensic and Log Analysis (FLAG), software promoted by the Defence Signals Directorate.

Defence Resources

Official Defence Organisations

Research Organisations and Academic Institutions


Prepared from: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Internet Resources, Parliamentary Library, Commonwealth of Australia, 2008

There is far less information readily available about Australian defence equipment and plans than for the USA. However, there are some good sources available on-line. As with any source it is necessary to be aware what you read may be out of date or incorrect. Military organisations and companies tend to describe proposed systems as if they were already built, tested and in operation. It can be useful to look to the defence press for a more skeptical view of the status of systems. It is also necessary to read past the acronyms used for systems.

Current Thinking of Defence CTO

Prepared from: Redesigning Government IT 2010, T. Worthington, March 25, 2010

The keynote address of the 2010 ACS Canberra Branch Conference was presented by Matt Yannopoulos, CTO, Department of Defence on 25 March 2010 in Canberra. Before his presentation I chatted with Matt, who confessed to me he wasn't a blogger, but the Chief of Army was. Matt is leading the development of the Defence ICT architecture. This fits with the "Defence White Paper 2009", "Defence Capability Plan 2009" and "Defence Reform Program 2009". There are ICT plans and military specific ones, such as for network centric warfare. The interesting part in all this is that Matt was taking about the business of the organisation, which is defence, and how IT supports this. The CTO is only responsible for about half the IT in Defence, with the other half being embedded in military systems. Use of "thin client" in is one way to save money and get control of desktops.

Matt pointed out that Defence is the this largest telco in Australia, behind Telstra and Optus. He confessed Defence has a printer for every three people and many thousands of applications to be rationalised. He mentioned problems with the defence pay system last year (when at Defence I helped cancel two successive pay system projects).

The plan for the future is that the CTO will provide the communications and processing infrastructure. Applications can then be run over the top. The previous practice was that each defence project would purchase and run its own network and hardware.

Matt pointed out that defence has about 90,000 desktop PCs, but also 10,000 trucks. In the future each truck will also have a screen in it and be potentially part of the system.

In terms of integration, Matt gave the example of a desk at the new Australian Defence Force "Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC)", with a desk for one person having five monitors and four telephones on it. He mentioned that most staff have at least two computers on their desk for security reasons. In the logistics area paper is mostly used and the most advanced application in common use is a spreadsheet.

A term Matt kept using was "composite applications". This seemed to be similar to a "mashup". He argued that in many cases small, quick and simple integration would provide benefits to the user. He said he did not want to buy heavily coupled integrated applications, but services.

The JSF project is paying for a secret level backbone for their own use, but which can also be used across the organisation. Matt used the example of the stove-pipe systems limiting access for military purposes in the middle-east. He also mentioned silos stopping reuse.

Matt said he was looking at the possibility of using cloud based services like Google apps, initially for personnel on deployment to use to communicate with their family (not for military purposes). This could be a good way to introduce military personnel to new ways of working. Obviously cloud systems within the Defence network can be used for security.

Potential OSS Defence Projects

HMAS RankinBoeing EA-18G Growler
  1. Collins class submarine replacement project
    • Bespoke Australian design
    • Air-independent propulsion
    • Sophisticated communications and sensors
    • 17 years to first boat will require continual software upgrades
  2. EA-18G Growler
    • electronic attack version of the F/A-18F
    • EW equipment is mounted in place of 20 mm cannon
    • wideband receiver mounts on the wingtips
    • jamming pods mounted on five weapons stations
    • Poor reliability and integration of EW
  1. Collins class submarine replacement project

    The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) project SEA 1000 is planning to replace six current Collins class submarines with twelve new vessels. These are expected to be the largest, most sophisticated and longest range non-nuclear submarines ever built. It is likely the project will favour an evolved version of the Collins class submarine, rather than a complete new design. This allows for OSS to be trialed in the existing vessels before installation in the new builds.

  2. EA-18G Growler

    The Australian Government has ordered 12 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft to be wired for conversion to EA-18G Growler electronic warfare (EW) aircraft. A decision is required by 2012 as to what EW equipment to install. The USA may not permit the export of the EW equipment installed on the EA-18G, or may not release the technical information required for its modification.

The Collins class submarine replacement project and EA-18G Growler represent two projects will require considerable software customisation and continual modification. While some systems need to sail/fly the craft will require safety critical performance and so need to be specially written and tests, those for sensor systems can use more COTS software and OSS. The craft will provide relatively large amounts of space and electrical power allowing installation of multiprocessor systems and there will be a need for continual upgrades and also rapid customisation for emerging requirements.

The U.S. Navy ARCI Program and the Australian Collins Submarine Communication Replacement (SEA1439 Phase 5B2) could make use of low cost, off the shelf computer equipment and open source software.

Education with OSS

Very little of defecne expenditure on ICT invovles high security military systems. Open Source Software may be easier to sell into other areas. One example is education. Defence has more than 100,000 personnel to be trained in everything from one hour saftey coruses up to a postgraduate level. Australian Defence are using the Moodle OSS LMS. The OSS concept can also be expanded into the area of open access content, such as the Green Technology Strategies course.

Defence IT Research in Adelaide

Dr Bruce Northcote will talk about the Centre for Defence Communications & Information Networking (DSIC) Tuesday 20th April 2010 at 6pm (RSVP). DSIC is a venture between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia for defence systems integration research with government and industry, including: DSTO, DMO, BAE, Cisco, ASC, Tenix, Cranfield University and SA Government.

More Information

Slides for these notes are also available.

Copyright © 2010 (Version 2, 17 April 2010) Tom Worthington

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Engaging the Defence Sector with Open Source by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.
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