New “chaos engineering” tool shared between DOD software factories


Written by Jackson Barnett

The Air Force’s Kessel Run software factory is transitioning to the Navy, a tool it has been developing for two years that is designed to mimic persistent enemy attacks on a system.

The Navy’s Black Pearl Software Factory will be the first group outside of Kessel Run to get the tech stack and best practice list to implement it. But ultimately, the goal is for as many coders as possible to get their hands on it, chief engineer Omar Marrero told FedScoop.

The tech stack and the Air Force team behind it are known as the Bowcaster, named after the weapon Star Wars character Chewbacca used in the film series. And the discipline behind their work is what is called chaos engineering.

“You have to constantly break the system to find where our weaknesses are,” said Marrero, whose official title is Chaos and Performance Engineering. “That’s essentially what chaos engineering is.”

The idea behind Chaos Engineering is to unleash unpredictable, persistent attacks that can always be controlled into what exactly they target in a system to mimic an enemy. Kessel Run launched its first internal attack using the system in the summer of 2020 after the program launched in 2019.

Marrero said the idea of ​​devoting resources to chaos engineering came organically from the need for more in-depth testing of systems. He said he attended several technical conferences to learn from others who had deployed similar systems, even though he already has training in this type of cybersecurity testing.

“As part of my career in the air force, I’ve always had a kind of chaos,” Marrero said in an interview.

The lessons the Air Force has learned from others and in its own technology stack development practice are part of the transition to Black Pearl as part of a chaos engineering ‘playbook’. It will also port the code to Platform One’s software repository, Iron Bank, so others can start experimenting.

One of the biggest lessons Marrero and the team learned was to “control the radius of the explosion” – that is, not to let the code start to unplug too many things.

Sharing tech stacks and tools like Bowcaster is a practice Kessel Run plans to continue. The Air Force and Navy are working on a new memorandum to share even more code between the two services.


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