The Department of Defense's Standardization Program for Military Computers--A More Unified Effort Is Needed

LCD-80-69: Published: Jun 18, 1980. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 1980.

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A review was made of the Department of Defense's (DOD) efforts to standardize military computers and software used in combat support and weapon systems. DOD has increasingly become dependent on automation to assist in accomplishing its mission. Associated with this huge computer growth has been a proliferation of many different kinds of computers with wide ranges of speed, size, power, and weight. This widespread proliferation has adversely affected DOD in terms of increased logistical support costs and operational difficulties. The overall cost to develop, operate, and maintain automated systems has increased dramatically because systems using different computers require unique system interfaces, logistics support, software development, maintenance, and training. Moreover, as the requirements for automated systems increase, problems and costs continue to grow. As a result, DOD has been forced to examine different techniques to lessen these adverse impacts so that it can deploy and maintain more cost affordable and operable automated systems in the future. Each military service has placed increased emphasis on computer standardization and is pursuing its own program to provide for standardization in future tactical systems. Although the services have many common functional requirements, they continue to spend funds on separate standardization programs.

GAO questioned the need for separate standardization programs, especially in view of studies which indicate that a Defense-wide standardization base could be the most cost advantageous for DOD. It is believed that DOD has an opportunity to maximize standardization of military computers and software for combat support and weapon systems use. The lack of a standard programming language is a major contributor to the high cost of developing and maintaining automated systems military applications, and DOD is to be commended for its initiative to fill that void by developing a common high-order programming language called Ada, which is expected to be ready for use in 1983. However, it is believed that DOD is rapidly losing an opportunity to achieve maximum Defense-wide standardization of military computers and software used for combat support and weapon systems automation. GAO is concerned that economic and operational benefits of standardization will be lost unless DOD controls the standardization program. Control should be centralized with periodic reviews.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should establish a high-level steering committee with decision-making authority and a triservice program office with responsibility for maximizing standardization of military computers and software in a manner that will promote and ensure the use of new technology, reduce software and acquisition costs, simplify logistics, and realize economies of scale. This responsibility should include implementing Ada as the standard programming language and managing its implementation and use, determining with the military services the computer architecture(s) that should be standardized and level of standardization to be achieved, and establishing the appropriate standardization policies. The triservice program office should be responsible to the steering committee for planning and controlling the implementation of those policies and DOD standardization efforts. These actions should be expedited so that the various independent efforts can conform to the new policies before long-term commitments are made.

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