Why OSS in the Military

The military faces virtually every information technology problem that industry does, however the primary focus of technology research for the Department of Defense (DoD) is focused on systems that directly support the war-fighter. Less visible systems tend to have slower improvements and fewer newcomers due to the bureaucratic policies and practices within the infamous military-industrial complex1. In spite of the operational tempo, these challenges must be met in a practical, adaptable, and affordable way.

Re-Deployable Solutions to Redundant Problems

The nature of the military lends itself to redundant problems at a variety of geographically distant locations. Redundant problems should never be met with redundant problem solving2. Open Source enables the re-use of solutions to common problems as well as the adaptability to expand from a basic problem into a new solution or service.

Vendor-Neutral Rapid Deployment

Because the source code is readable, it is impossible to become locked-in with a specific vendor. Although this has the obvious benefit of future vendor competition, the potential for rapid deployment is a strong case for OSS in the DoD. Open Source enables the DoD to efficiently and cost-effectively pull together large short-term ad-hoc tiger teams3 that need quick IT tools for evolving mission solutions. An outstanding example of such an effort was the disaster relief efforts in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti--mapping teams worked together to rapidly map the new areas to aid in coordinating emergency workers movements around Port-au-Prince.

Cost-Effective Solutions

One of the the compelling arguments for using Open Source Software, especially in tight economic times, is that it is cost-effective. By utilizing pre-built foundations, it is quicker and easier to build from them rather than starting from scratch.

Development costs are a driver in the decision to use Open Source Software. A report by the 451 Group found that 43% of decision makers said that lowering costs was the single most important reason for adopting OSS. The report also noted that 84% of respondents acknowledged that the implementation of Open Source Software had met or exceeded their cost savings expectations4.

Highly Adaptable

Having the availability of human-readable source code makes adapting that code to meet requirements a practical method of meeting requirements. This practice is what open source developers want, expect and mean when discussing "free software"—free to study, modify, and distribute. This flexibility is the keystone that makes Open Source Software a pragmatic, practical solution for the DoD.

The 451 Group's Report5 found that before deploying Open Source as a solution 43% decision makers felt that cost was the most important benefit of OSS. After their Open Source project deployments, 13% the same respondents no longer felt that cost was the greatest benefit of OSS, instead found Open Source's flexibility to be its primary strength—a view held by 69% of OSS decision makers.

1  Coined by President Eisenhower in his farewell address, January 1961, and describes the relationship between the military and industry.
2  Open Source Efficiencies and Obstacles in the Department of Defense, 2010
3  "Tiger Team" now generally refers to any team that attacks a problem aggressivelyWikipedia
4  From the 451 CAOS Theory Blog, 'Neither free as in speech, nor free as in beer' by Matthew Aslett, April 15, 2009, downloaded 4/17/09
5  'Turning the Tables?' by The 451 Group, March 2008, downloaded 4/17/09