Art from Getty Creative showing a notional military communications hub. (Getty Creative/Gorodenkoff)

WASHINGTON — Instead of a single megaprogram run by a single contractor, the Pentagon wants its nascent global battle network, called CJADC2, to evolve into a rapidly adaptive ecosystem, where dozens of different applications bloom and die as military needs arise and change.

So, just after awarding almost a half-billion dollars to Palantir Technologies to expand its Maven Smart System tenfold, the Chief Digital & AI Office (CDAO) announced a new initiative, Open DAGIR, to open the doors to other software developers.

While Palantir’s Maven will act as the de facto backbone for the global system, its “open architecture” design is meant to allow other companies’ code to plug in, quickly, with a minimum of integration work. That plug-and-play approach, in turn, should allow the operational Combatant Commands (COCOMs) around the globe to commission custom apps as needed from any vendor.

“We want America’s best talent solving DoD’s hardest problems,” said the new Chief Digital & AI Officer, Radha Plumb, in a published statement Thursday.

The first of those hard problems is CJADC2: Combined Joint All-Domain Command & Control — that is, linking all the US armed services (“joint”) and their coalition partners (“combined”) across the five “domains” of land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. Last year, CDAO and the COCOMs used quarterly Global Information Dominance Experiments (GIDE) to speed-run development of a “Minimum Viable Capability” for CJADC2. Now, as the GIDE experiments continue, CDAO is looking to build beyond that “minimum,” a senior defense official told reporters Thursday.

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“What we learned is, it’s not one company or one thing that makes advanced C2 capabilities,” the official said. “It’s making sure we have the data in a way that’s accessible to a broad range of talented software developers, across a range of companies….What we’ve done here is created a scalable way to do that.”

The push for “third-party capabilities” will kick off June 1 with “a six week sprint” by Pentagon experts in intellectual property, contracting, and software development, the official said. Their mission: to figure out a competitive process that will meet military commanders’ needs, build on Palantir’s technology, but also protect other contractors’ IP.

Then, in July, CDAO will hold an industry day for interested companies and run an initial round of experiments to try out software, as part of the same quarterly GIDEs the Pentagon has been using to thrash out CJADC2.

Triple DAGIR

Overall, Open DAGIR — short for “Open Data & Applications Government-owned Interoperable Repositories” — involves three interdependent but distinct layers, the official explained:

Data Infrastructure: Data is the foundation for any functioning analytics or artificial intelligence, as Radha’s predecessor, founding CDAO Craig Martell, was fond of saying. That means the data is not only accessible but properly tagged, labeled, and structured so a variety of different systems can read it. The government will retain ownership and control of the data, but Palantir will build and operate the software “stack” required to manage it day-to-day. (This is a model known as Government Owned, Contractor Operated, or GOCO). However, third-party contractors will be able to access the Palantir-managed data as needed to make their software work, the official emphasized.
Mature Applications: This layer is for software that has proven stable, functional, and cybersecure, and which the government decides to use on a large scale for a long time. Such apps will be purchased on an “enterprise license” basis, meaning CDAO will buy the rights for them to be used by an entire organization, like a COCOM or even the whole Department of Defense. Palantir’s Indefinite-Quantity, Indefinite-Delivery (IDIQ) contract for the Maven Smart System is the leading example here, and the only one the official mentioned by name, but others will presumably be added in the future.
Competitive Environment: Even the most mature and regularly updated software program can’t meet all needs, however. That’s why the final layer of CDAO’s new approach is a “competitive environment” where COCOMs can issue new requirements, interested software developers of all sizes can compete to meet them, and the winning products can be fielded rapidly, using Other Transaction (OT) contracts. (All these developers will have access to the Palantir-managed but government-owned data). Successful software may eventually graduate to the “mature” layer and earn a long term contract, or it may simply meet an immediate need and fade away.

“They can be applications that are fit for a particular urgent or emergent need that we want to build and deploy rapidly, but we may not want to sustain for years or decades,” the official explained. “Those can be funded through the OT [Other Transaction Authority], delivered, fielded very quickly, and then…we can deprecate [them] as we no longer need them. The second class is the set of applications that are mature [and which] we want to be enduringly available, and those can be transitioned into the IDIQ itself, integrated with the Palantir stack.”

By using different types of contracts, and switching a given piece of software from one type to another as needed, CDAO should be able to exploit competition among companies to rapidly add new capabilities at the top layer — without having to change its foundation-layer contractor and laboriously rebuild everything from the bottom-up for every update. (That ordeal historically happened all too often with traditional systems where a single “lead systems integrator” built everything on a single contract using proprietary technology that was incompatible with other contractors’). In fact, although the official didn’t say so aloud, in theory it should even be possible to replace Palantir as the contract for the data infrastructure, for Maven, or both.

“Open DAGIR ensures the Department can leverage the innovative solutions from the world-class software developers in both the traditional and nontraditional industrial base,” Plumb said in her statement. “It allows us to ensure enduring access to government-owned, contractor-operated technology stacks and infrastructure and retain data rights while also maximizing the ability of other companies to develop applications with government data.”