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2021 Year in Review

Enabling the Next Generation of U.S. Nuclear Deterrence

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) is replacing the 50-year-old Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with its Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) system. The GBSD will be the modernized land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad.

This modernization effort includes improving the infrastructure, technologies, and communication systems that support GBSD. To address the software assurance and cybersecurity of the effort, the SEI will help the GBSD program

  • prioritize flexible, upgradeable, software-intensive solutions over hardware-based options
  • adopt and implement modern Agile and DevSecOps methodologies
  • leverage a shared, cross-program infrastructure
  • establish a continuous authority to operate (ATO) with integrated cybersecurity monitoring
  • architect a software-based, periodically refreshed nuclear surety environment

Leading with these priorities will allow the government to reliably and securely sustain GBSD against evolving threats for many decades to come.

The SEI is researching solutions, and their integration across all aspects of the program’s lifecycle is critical.

Carol Woody
Principal Researcher, SEI CERT Division
Photo of Carol Woody

In 2020, the USAF awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) a $13.3 billion contract towards completion of the engineering phase of GBSD in FY29. The SEI’s support requires a novel approach where teams from across the institute collaborate with NGC, teams from other federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), and the USAF to address issues, many of which have no methodological approaches. Carol Woody, cybersecurity lead of the SEI’s GBSD effort, commented, “The SEI is researching solutions, and their integration across all aspects of the program’s lifecycle is critical.”

To meet its requirements, GBSD must achieve four particularly challenging goals:

  1. Modernize GBSD by applying a range of research areas, many of which are software centric.
  2. Integrate these modernized aspects to meet the expansive program requirements while staying within cost and aggressive schedule projections.
  3. Introduce precedents and shift mindsets concurrently in many government organizations and supporting vendors: a large-scale implementation of Agile methods to software development, business, and operations; a full DevSecOps pipeline; a hybrid (contractor and government) development team; and continuous ATO.
  4. Integrate acquisition practices with cybersecurity and supply chain risk management practices.

SEI researchers are experienced in meeting challenges like these for the Department of Defense (DoD). They integrate SEI research in real-world situations, introduce technology and innovation to organizations, and collaborate with myriad research partners. SEI teams are supporting GBSD with research, risk analysis, and adoption planning.

GBSD is in its early stages. Key SEI contributions and early results include

  • improving efficiency and productivity by establishing synchronization and communication at many levels of the GBSD program
  • conducting Quantifying Uncertainty in Early Lifecycle Cost Estimation (QUELCE) workshops that identified and prioritized more than 130 significant program execution uncertainties, 20 percent of which materialized but were mitigated through advanced planning

As a key FFRDC partner, the SEI expects to continue its GBSD support for the next five to eight years. “This support represents a great opportunity for SEI longitudinal research in many technical areas, which, in turn, helps GBSD achieve its modernization mission,” said Bob Stoddard, the SEI’s GBSD lead.

Woody added, “This program also represents a tremendous opportunity for research collaborations between the SEI and GBSD, capitalizing on the trust and health of the customer relationship.”

Reports from this modernization of one of the DoD’s biggest and most critical programs have already been released to support other nuclear programs and cybersecurity efforts in the USAF. The GBSD promises to be an exemplar for cybersecurity and software assurance in DoD, U.S. government, and defense vendor organizations.

Photos: U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Defense

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