The U.S. Marine Corps prides itself on adaptability, resilience, and grit. One of its many inspirational mantras—"improvise, adapt and overcome"—is a testament to the organization’s unwavering determination in the relentless pursuit of excellence. Innovation and adaptability have always been at the heart of the Marine Corps, displaying a depth of intellectual capital that extends beyond their physical prowess and tactical acumen. While heavy weaponry and physical strength are undoubtedly crucial to their mission, the true power of the Marines lies in their intellectual agility and their ability to learn, adapt, and overcome challenges.
In 2019, the Marine Corps acknowledged the evolving terrain of modern conflict. The Commandant of the Marine Corps launched several initiatives to ensure Marines were prepared for the future battlefield. The Force Design 2030 program aligns Marines, their equipment, and strategy with shifts in geopolitics and technology; Talent Management 2030 focuses on talent retention and alignment; and Training & Education 2030 centers on an education pipeline, readying the Marines for engagements with equally adept opponents. The Marine Corps launched one of the ways to address each of these major initiatives, MCSWF—the Marine Corps Software Factory.
Advancing Digital Literacy for Modern Defense
Digital literacy is rapidly becoming an essential skill for every organization—military or otherwise. The Marine Corps Software Factory is designed to develop the digital literacy necessary for modern defense by rapidly producing applications that enhance operational speed and combat readiness. Modeling its mission on the U.S. Army Software Factory, the MCSWF aspires to achieve similar scalability and efficiency.
But the MCSWF is not merely a tool for software development. It is a catalyst for the modernization of the Marine Corps with plans to deploy fully enabled Marines to provide commanders software capability at the tactical edge. This mission is about more than teaching Marines to code and understand technology—it is also about transforming the organization into a hub of continuous agile learning and growth.
“The Marine Corps Software Factory is about outcomes, creating advantage for Marines at the tactical edge, today. The MCSWF will provide viable capabilities to enhance mission readiness through the power of information,” says LtGen Matthew Glavy, Deputy Commandant for Information.
Creating Top-Tier Infrastructure and Retaining Top-Tier Talent
Headquartered in Austin, Texas, the three-year pilot initiative aims to create a top-tier software development infrastructure that can expedite the modernization of the Marine Corps. The strategy centers on cultivating latent talent throughout the Marine Corps and enhancing their skillsets to rapidly generate applications that keep pace with operational speed, thereby enhancing combat power and readiness. This exciting work at MCSWF—with its intensive training and the upskilling many desire—provides advancement opportunities within the Marine Corps and preparation for careers in the private sector, helping the organization retain some of its best talent.
Driven by a team of Marines assigned to empower commanders to anticipate the evolving challenges presented by the modern battlefield, the MCSWF combines traditional military training with modern technology skills, providing a tactical advantage for Marines across the service. This distinct blend of skills and expertise paves the way for technical career paths for the Marines, while also establishing the perfect mix of civilian-Marine collaboration.
“This is about boldly investing in our people,” says LtCol Charlie Bahk, Director of the Marine Corps Software Factory. “It’s about upskilling and enabling each Marine, honing their skills, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement.”
The Marine Corps faces myriad real-world challenges ranging from warfare strategies to logistics and resource management. Traditional military processes can be protracted and inefficient. "One set of problems involves solutions that would impact a large number of Marines, such as their career fields or pay. The other set involves situations where lives are at stake," says LtCol Bahk. “The goal was to transform processes and address issues with agile, effective solutions at the speed of operations.”
The necessity for an organic software development capability within the Marine Corps arises from increasingly software-centric, highly lethal, and disconnected future battlefield scenarios. In this landscape, the Marines must devise and implement technical solutions at the tactical edge, without the reliance on contracted support or reach back capabilities—the ability to access resources, information, or skills that are not immediately available onsite but available from another source or location. In a professional context, this could mean accessing the expertise of a remote colleague or using data stored on a centralized computer system.
Building a Software Factory
The software factory concept involves several critical elements: releasing software on a regular, faster cadence while maintaining an open feedback loop with users; continuously refining development processes; and utilizing cloud native technologies to remove infrastructure toil through automation and self-service. This development model brings together the best and most innovative approaches to software development to accelerate digital transformation. Rooted in DevOps and Agile software development methods, a software factory combines tools, teams, and practices to organize, standardize, store, and reuse code. The outcome is the ability to build upon accumulated knowledge efficiently.
The MCSWF turned to VMware Tanzu Labs to accelerate the program. One of the key tools in its collection is VMware Tanzu Application Service. This platform enables rapid software delivery while streamlining the path from code to production. Developers can focus on creating applications without worrying about the underlying infrastructure. And the VMware Tanzu Application Service solution’s built-in security features help ensure the software built is robust and protected from various threats.
Creating a Learning Culture
The impact of the MCSWF mission extends well beyond improved processes. LtCol Bahk and his team envision a future where digital literacy is the norm, where the Marines are prepared for the complex challenges of the modern battlefield. The project is important for boosting digital literacy in the Marines and contributing to similar programs across the Department of Defense.
“Our primary goal is not only to provide commanders fully equipped software developers at the tactical edge,” says LtCol Bahk. “We want to do much more than that. We want the Marines who leave Austin to export this continuous learning attitude to the fleet.”
The MCSWF is a shining example of the Marine Corps’ commitment to "improvise, adapt and overcome." It’s about nurturing a vibrant learning culture to bolster their arsenal. Because at the end of the day, it's not just about the software—it's about the people.