JASPO FUNDING OF SMALL PROJECTS IN BRAWLER: BRINGING MICROFINANCE TO GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING
By: Dale Johnson
For years, model managers for Brawler, the Enhanced Surface-to-Air Missile Simulation (ESAMS), the Computation of Vulnerable Area Tool (COVART), and several other models have made proposals to the Joint Aircraft Survivability Program Office (JASPO) committees for major, multiyear enhancements to these models. Unfortunately, despite these enhancements, the underlying models themselves have sometimes deteriorated because of inadequate funding for ongoing model maintenance or inconsistent configuration management.
In addition, while JASPO and other agencies have often been willing to fund many larger modification/ enhancement efforts, smaller changes requiring only a few programmer-days or -months of effort have sometimes stacked up, without a good way to get them accomplished. After all, who really wants to let task orders of, say,
$5,000 (a labor-week) or $20,000 (a labor-month) at a time, given the relatively large number of hours and amount of effort just to get that contract vehicle in place? And Government model experts generally cannot take a few months away from their other primary tasks to work on the backlog of projects in the model- improvement “job jar.” So, where does one go to solve these problems?
This is where JASPO has stepped in to throw out a lifeline—at least to Brawler, COVART, and ESAMS—by means of a dedicated annual funding stream that can be applied to configuration management, day-to-day software maintenance, and responding to some of the longstanding smaller problems previously described. Starting in FY16, JASPO started providing $150,000 each year to Brawler (and slightly more for COVART and ESAMS), which has allowed a regularized annual version release of the software, incorporating all of the changes from JASPO-sponsored projects, projects sponsored by other agencies, all of the user-developed software improvements that get added to the code through the JASPO-sponsored software change request (SCR) process throughout the year, and configuration control of the final release version of the code.
The more intriguing portion of this process, however, has been the impact that the balance of this annual funding has had, as it can be used to address some of the longstanding smaller projects, as well as the promise it shows in sparking a growth and in-flow of other funding steams, which can be equated to the microfinance revolution.
A MICROFINANCING SOLUTION
Microfinancing is the ongoing effort in third-world economies to turn those economies around. Much like venture capitalists in Silicon Valley who spread around millions of dollars looking for the next Google or eBay, philanthropists who were tired of seeing foreign aid squandered (or, more often, the fattening of the Swiss bank accounts of the leaders of those mismanaged countries) went out among the people in those nations and made small direct loans where they would matter most. Third-world entrepreneurs did not need
$100,000 to open a restaurant or a store. They often needed only $200 for a sewing machine or $500 for a street-merchant’s handcart. These amounts would be too little for a bank to worry about, and yet they are perfect for the philanthropist who wants to see a return on his/her investment.
And a similar situation has occurred in Brawler model management. Previously, Brawler’s annual Configuration Control Board (CCB) meetings, held in conjunction with the now annual JASPO-sponsored Joint Model User’s Meeting (JMUM), had become a bit of a formality. All SCRs were accepted, and because most were accompanied by the suggested code modifications that the users had worked out through their initiative, it took only a few hours for the Configuration Manager to determine that the new code worked and did not introduce any unwanted effects elsewhere in the code. And thus the code was accepted into the code base.
In the case of actual bugs that did not come with a solution from the user, they generally only involved a few hours to “fix.” Then these too were accepted into the code base for the next release. In addition, because many of these SCRs had already been closed by the time of the annual CCB meeting, the meeting became a rubber stamp for the SCRs that had already been worked and for the more recent submissions that were next up in the job jar.
This was not the case, however, for the rarer of the SCRs, those requesting small changes or enhancements to Brawler. They were accepted by the CCB when validated as a useful enhancement to the code, but it was understood that they would not go into the job jar, as neither A9 nor any other Brawler user was budgeted to take on other people’s code modifications. As a result, those SCRs languished, and, as might be expected, that is why that type of SCR was so rare.
But this situation began to change in 2016 when JASPO’s funding was introduced into this process. Beginning with the 2016 JMUM/CCB, all of those old requests that had been sitting and gathering dust were discussed. Additionally, a prioritized list of those small projects was developed, based on the expected benefit, how many users would use the new capability, and the anticipated level of effort to code-out these enhancements. And work was initiated over the next year to accomplish as many items on the “punch list” as funding would allow.
At the 2017 JMUM/CCB, in addition to A9 discussing the major changes to the code that had been made through- out the year, as well as several other Brawler users discussing the changes they had made and how they employed the code (the usual fare of the break-out session), additional time was also scheduled to discuss our success in tackling the punch list and to field nominations for new items on the list. The 2016 list had started with 7 entries, and 6 were addressed prior to the 2017 JMUM; but we left the 2017 meeting with 16 entries to be addressed. In addition, because we had had success with the 2016 list, several Brawler users who could not attend JMUM in person requested that we hold a virtual follow-up to the CCB, which resulted in a 17th entry and a reordering of project priorities (see Table 1). Without a doubt, success has energized the process.
And success may also be leveraging new funding streams. For example, one of the Government Brawler users went to one of its customers, an aircraft System Program Office (SPO), and asked that customer to pay for the annual Brawler User Fee ($5,000) for them, as well as to include an additional $15,000 to get a code enhancement accomplished to help with the analysis that the customer required. (Note that the Air Force Fiscal, Ethics and Administrative Law Division cautions that any new funding streams must comply with fiscal law. Not all new funding streams will be appropriate across the board. Fiscal rules may dictate the approval would be unsuitable for other users.)
By demonstrating the agility to make these small enhancements in a timely fashion, we have taken users out of the old paradigm of “I really hate that the code acts that way; why didn’t they design the code to do such and such” and into the new paradigm of “I could be much more efficient if the software would just do this one additional step,” and then they go out and proactively seek the funding to get it done.
Brawler is continuing to see its major evolutionary changes occur through large infusions of cash to make major modifications to the model. Developers are currently in the process of designing a major overhaul to the code, which will bring it in line with other modeling and simulation (M&S) tools within the Air Force and Department of Defense and which will (hopefully) greatly simplify the process for new users to adopt the code. But this infusion of model maintenance funding, targeted at smaller projects— in essence, microfinancing for the modeling software world—has breathed new life and energy into the Brawler user base and may be an example for other M&S tools to follow in the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mr. Dale Johnson is a member of the Air Force Office of Studies Analyses and Assessments (HQ USAF/A9FM) and has been the Brawler Model Manager since 2004. In addition to his 20 years of active duty service in the U.S. Air Force, he has served as a Government civilian since 2009. Mr. Johnson holds a B.S. and M.S. in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan.
(Note that A9 owns and manages Brawler, while JASPO provides supplemental funding and the Defense Systems Information Analysis Center handles model distribution, SCR management, and user group administration.)