Space Force boldly goes to Silicon Valley to get a Star Trek-flavored software boost


WASHINGTON — With the help of Silicon Valley, the nation’s youngest military branch is already proving that it can do business quicker than its more established sister services.

The U.S. Space Force, in partnership with VMware, fast-tracked the development of several tech applications for the service’s space software package. The cloud-based software package, affectionately dubbed Kobayashi Maru (a “Star Trek” reference), was developed by Palo Alto-based Palantir Systems and is used by both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force to track and monitor objects in space.

U.S. Air Force Col. Jennifer Krolikowski, who currently leads efforts to further develop Kobayashi Maru’s capabilities, spoke to CNBC exclusively about how the service branch is utilizing its relationships with the private tech sector.

“Traditionally with DoD software programs it takes a very, very, very long time to develop and then by the time something is delivered it may not be operationally relevant to the warfighter anymore,” explained Krolikowski, the senior materiel leader for Space C2 at the Space and Missile Systems Center, a component of the U.S. Space Force.

“The legacy application that we had before took about three years to build and was about 10 times the cost of what we were able to do in six months with VMware’s support,” Krolikowski said.

President Donald Trump first floated the Space Force idea as a part of his national security strategy on March 13, 2018. 

“Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea,” Trump told an audience of service members at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “We may even have a Space Force, develop another one, Space Force. We have the Air Force, we’ll have the Space Force.” Three months later, Trump directed the Pentagon to immediately begin the creation of the new branch.

In January, Trump unveiled the Space Force logo, which closely resembles that of Star Trek’s fictional Starfleet.

And earlier this year, 86 cadets graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and commissioned for the first time into the U.S. Space Force.

Krolikowski, who holds several advanced engineering degrees, said one of her main goals is to setup Kobayashi Maru for the Space Force in a way that allows for the software to continually evolve. One way the service has been able to do this is by identifying and partnering with tech industry leaders on specific needs.

“The way DoD has previously built software is that we would hire one contractor that would kind of do the whole project. They would be responsible for applications, platforms and infrastructure,” she explained, adding that the approach wasn’t always efficient or effective.

“If we break apart those elements we can get the best people working on each of those particular layers and that’s where we brought in VMware, because if we had to build this ourselves or work with a firm that didn’t have that level of expertise, we would still be working on it,” Krolikowski said.

VMware’s Edward Hieatt, senior vice president of Services and Support, said the firm’s successful partnership with the youngest service branch is due to collaboration. 

“We teach customers like Space Force how to modernize their existing applications and infrastructure, and build new, modern applications for themselves; we don’t simply do it for them. That’s powerful because it enables Space Force Airmen to be self-sufficient and leverage modern software and infrastructure to more rapidly achieve mission outcomes,” Hieatt told CNBC.

“It used to take eight to 10 years to acquire, develop, accredit, and deploy usable software. We teach airmen and soldiers to do that in months,” he added.