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Army Futures Command plans Austin-based software unit

By KARA CARLSON | The Austin American-Statesman | Published: July 15, 2020

Austin-based Army Futures Command is establishing a soldier-led software unit to help train soldiers and develop needed technology for the Army.

Army Futures Command is a public-private initiative that leads modernization projects for the Army. When it was created, it was considered the largest reorganization of the military branch in decades. Austin was chosen as the headquarters for the center in 2018.

Dubbed the Software Factory, the new facility is scheduled to open in 2021. It will act as a "train-with-industry" pipeline to teach both soldiers and civilians how to solve Army problems using cloud technology and software, as well as help develop new technology for future needs, according to the military.

Army Maj. Vito Errico, special assistant to the commanding general of Futures Command, will lead the Software Factory. Errico said the unit will help raise the level of digital proficiency, solve existing problems with software development and "harvest the innovative spirit" of the national and local Austin ecosystem.

The concept will be the first of its kind for the Army. The Department of Defense and U.S Air Force use dozens of software factories to ramp up their own technological needs and to manage services including security and develop software for the military.

The Software Factory will help prepare soldiers for disconnected warfare, Army Futures Command said,, as well as teach skills in agile and secure software development processes in a boot-camp-style fellowship. It will look to candidates with existing technical skills.

Errico said he anticipates soldiers and civilians will officially start at the factory in mid to late January, and stay upwards of three years. He said eventually the factory will scale up to about 200 people over several years with cohorts of about 30 people every six months.

He said the factory will focus on identifying, developing and utilizing talent within the Army, and creating products made by soldiers, for soldiers.

The Software Factory is part of a suite of programs Futures Command is pioneering this year focused around modernization across the software development and artificial intelligence ecosystem.

"The capability to develop software at the lowest tactical levels will help us provide better software products," Gen. John M. Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command, said in a written statement. "We anticipate long-term cost savings and expect the Software Factory to help us maintain a competitive advantage across Army modernization efforts."

Errico said Army Futures Command is preparing for 10 to 15 years down the line, which he anticipates will look very different, with more disconnected tactical or operational scenarios and more complex weapon and communications systems.

"Software factory is a large part about preparing our force for that future operating environment," Errico said "We won't necessarily be able to rely on a contracted presence, or some kind of reach back capability to higher echelons to diagnose different information technologies that soldiers will be using the future, or to potentially code our own solutions on top. Software factory is about the first step in that 10 year journey to prepare our workforce for that eventuality."

Army Futures Command already works with technology companies locally, as well as with universities, including the University of Texas and Texas A&M to study and develop new technology. It also has a digital talent initiative at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Futures Command said the Software Factory will compliment that initiative.

Errico said the factory will continue to be a way to bring in civilian technology talent and recent graduates to Futures Command.

"The model for a successful software factory requires constant, hand in hand interaction with academia and industry." Errico said. "We are continuously looking at pathways for stability to onboard new civilian talent to the Army such as to the software factory."

In Austin, in addition to its headquarters, Futures Command has a working space in Capital Factory, one of Austin's biggest incubator spaces, with the goal of being a public facing space for the military to link with startup companies and entrepreneurs.

Last year Futures Command announced it had selected Texas A&M's RELLIS campus to be the Army's main hub for testing future-of-war technology. This month it named Army Col. Rosendo "Ross" Guieb, who has been a senior staff member at the Army Futures Command center in Austin, as the first executive director for the complex.

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