Author: Linda Northrop. Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.
The U. S. Department of Defense (DoD) has a goal of information dominance—to achieve and exploit superior collection, fusion, analysis, and use of information to meet mission objectives. This goal depends on increasingly complex systems characterized by thousands of platforms,
sensors, decision nodes, weapons, and warfighters connected through heterogeneous wired and wireless networks. These systems will push far beyond the size of today’s systems and systems of systems by every measure: number of lines of code; number of people employing the system for different purposes; amount of data stored, accessed, manipulated, and
refined; number of connections and interdependencies among software components; and number of hardware elements. They will be ultra-largescale (ULS) systems.

The sheer scale of ULS systems will change everything. ULS systems will necessarily be decentralized in a variety of ways, developed and used by a wide variety of stakeholders with conflicting needs, evolving continuously, and constructed from heterogeneous parts. People will not just be users of a ULS system; they will be elements of the system. Software and hardware failures will be the norm rather than the exception. The acquisition of a ULS system will be simultaneous with its operation and will require
new methods for control. These characteristics are beginning to emerge in today’s DoD systems of systems; in ULS systems they will dominate. Consequently, ULS systems will place unprecedented demands on software acquisition, production, deployment, management, documentation, usage,
and evolution practices.

Fundamental gaps in our current understanding of software and software development at the scale of ULS systems present profound impediments to the technically and economically effective achievement of the DoD goal of deterrence and dominance based on information superiority. These gaps are strategic, not tactical. They are unlikely to be addressed adequately by incremental research within established categories. Rather, we require a broad new conception of both the nature of such systems and new ideas for how to develop them. We will need to look at them differently, not just as systems or systems of systems, but as socio-technical ecosystems. We will face fundamental challenges in the design and evolution, orchestration and
control, and monitoring and assessment of ULS systems. These challenges require breakthrough research.

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