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Air Force software chief quits after slamming SECDEF, joint chiefs: ‘We’re setting up to fail’

Air Force Chief Software Officer Nicholas Chaillan (U.S. Air Force photo/Released)
September 07, 2021

Nicholas Chaillan, the U.S. Air Force’s first-ever Chief Software Officer (CSO) publicly quit his job last week after criticizing the service’s reliance on unqualified officers which he said is setting up its IT infrastructure to fail. He also faulted the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not following through with funding on a major technology project, the Joint All-Domain Command, Control framework (JADC2).

Chaillan announced his decision to quit working with the Department of Defense and the Department of the Air Force in a LinkedIn post on September 2.

“It is time! It is time for me to say goodbye to the Department of Defense and the Department of the Air Force,” Chaillan began his LinkedIn post.

“One of the main reasons for my decision was the failure of OSD and the Joint Staff to deliver on their own alleged top ‘priority,’ JADC2 – they couldn’t ‘walk the walk,'” Chaillan wrote. “I put my reputation on the line when I shared that I was asked by the Joint Staff to join the JADC2 team as their CSO. They wanted me to help deliver a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) within 4 months so that we would finally have a tangible deliverable to show for JADC2, not just redundant and siloed work performed by each of the DoD services or vaporware/stale documents.”

Chaillan said that while OSD and the Joint Staff said JADC2 is a top priority, the DoD “could not even find $20M” for the project. “A rounding error for the Department.”

In his letter, Chaillan also called on the Air Force to stop appointing mid-level officers with generalized skillsets to run specialized technology projects.

“Please stop putting a Major or Lt Col. (despite their devotion, exceptional attitude, and culture) in charge of ICAM, Zero Trust or Cloud for 1 to 4 million users when they have no previous experience in that field,” Chaillan wrote. “We are setting up critical infrastructure to fail. We would not put a pilot in the cockpit without extensive flight training; why would we expect someone with no IT experience to be close to successful?”

Chaillan’s resignation post comes three weeks after he criticized the Air Force’s handling of digital projects during an Air Force Association Gabriel Chapter luncheon on August 11.

“I have to be a little cautious there, because quite honestly, the leadership in the department always says the right things,” Chaillan said in his August remarks, Air Force Magazine reported. “I’ve yet to hear them not say the right things. The Space Force, [Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay”] Raymond says, ‘We’re a digital service.’ Are you? Are you sure you’re a digital service? I’m not so sure. It’s just easy to say—it’s a little bit harder to walk the walk. And so we need to start doing that and stop talking.”

Chaillan noted the Air Force Magazine article in his resignation letter.

“Most of you have probably seen the recent article where I expressed that I’m tired of hearing the right words without action, and I called on leadership to ‘walk the walk.'” Chaillan wrote. “That includes funding, staffing and prioritizing IT basic issues for the Department. A lack of response and alignment is certainly a contributor to my accelerated exit.”

Chaillan said he felt he could have resolved the Air Force’s IT problems in six months, had he been empowered, but instead “most of my time was wasted trying to convince folks to engage with me and consider more relevant and efficient solutions, while I watched as they continued to deliver capabilities that do not meet the basic needs of our warfighters.”

“The DoD should stop pretending they want industry folks to come and help if they are not going to let them do the work,” he wrote. “While we wasted time in bureaucracy, our adversaries moved further ahead.”