DARPA wants a new way to upgrade old code and decouple it from hardware

Sometimes a crucial piece of software is only meant to work on one type of hardware. The DOD wants to eliminate those situations.
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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking for new ways to replace legacy code and decouple it from hardware, a key modernization objective touted by senior Pentagon IT officials.

The $40 million program is geared toward situations where completely retiring an IT system is not an option. The Department of Defense has other modernization efforts that focus on wholesale replacement of software and the development of new enterprise development platforms. But DARPA says the military also needs the capability for more precise updates.

“The goal of the [Verified Security and Performance Enhancement of Large Legacy Software] program is to create a developer-accessible capability for piece-by-piece enhancement of software components with new verified code,” a broad agency announcement for the program states.

The V-SPELLS program is focused on “(re)engineering” legacy software instead of “clean-slate introduction.” DARPA is asking for open-architecture development practices so parts of the code can be replaced while the whole system is still in use or being transferred to a new piece of hardware, according to the announcement.


The lack of ability to go line-by-line has created a logjam when software that was coupled with old hardware needs to be transferred to updated physical tech. The code may have shortcuts put in by developers that are specific to how the software interacts with old hardware — and that render it useless with new hardware.

“As a result, critical systems are locked into obsolete hardware and software components,” according to the announcement.

DOD IT officials have said that decoupling software from hardware is a needed step in the broader goal of modernizing the force. Whether it is to be able to update software to improve the abilities of a piece of hardware, or vice-versa, it’s important the two can operate independently, Deputy CIO for Information Enterprise Peter Ranks said in March during FedScoop’s IT Modernization Summit.

“Most programs in the Department of Defense still deliver systems, integrated hardware/software systems,” he said. There is a “need to drive the de-coupling of our software and hardware.”


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