USAF Chief Software Officer Steps Down, Criticizes Pentagon

Nicolas Chaillan
Credit: USAF

Nicolas Chaillan, the U.S. Air Force’s first chief software officer, announced his resignation Sept. 2 in a lengthy social media post calling out the service for not effectively funding and prioritizing cybersecurity efforts, and the Pentagon for refusing to put money behind initiatives that officials claim are priorities.

Chaillan was picked for the new job in 2019 and worked with the Air Force’s chief information officer to oversee the service’s software efforts, especially through initiatives such as the Advanced Battle Management System and new weapons systems such as the B-21. In the LinkedIn post, Chaillan wrote that the Pentagon refuses to adopt basic security practices and that officials say the right things out loud about cybersecurity and software development without spending money or assigning the right personnel to succeed.

“This job certainly was not easy, probably the most challenging and infuriating of my entire career,” Chaillan wrote.

For example, the Defense Department’s lack of response and alignment to prioritizing basic information technology issues is a “contributor to my accelerated exit,” he wrote. Neither Chaillan nor Lauren Knausenberger, the Air Force’s chief information officer, are empowered to fix basic information technology (IT) issues “that are seen as trivial for any organization outside of the U.S. Government.”

Chaillan criticized how the Air Force staffs its IT teams, treating the career field “as if IT is not a highly technical skill and expertise.” Specifically, he called out the practice of putting career uniformed officers in charge.

“Please stop putting a Major or Lt Col. (despite their devotion, exceptional attitude, and culture) in charge of [Identity, Credential, and Access Management], Zero Trust or Cloud for 1 to 4 million users when they have no previous experience in that field–we are setting up critical infrastructure to fail,” Chaillan wrote. “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?”

The Pentagon “underutilized and poorly leveraged” Chaillan himself, he wrote, adding he spent most of his time trying to convince others to listen to him.

“At this point, I am just tired of continuously chasing support and money to do my job,” he wrote. “My office still has no billet and no funding, this year and the next.”

Chaillan called out the Pentagon’s lack of support for Joint All Domain Command and Control, which the Department has said is a key priority. The Joint Staff asked him to help deliver a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) within four months, which Chaillan wrote was a “massive undertaking.” But he said the Joint Staff would not put forward any funding in fiscal 2022 to support the MVP.

“After all the talk and continued assertions that this was critical work, DOD could not even find $20M to build tremendously beneficial warfighter capabilities. A rounding error for the Department,” he wrote.

The Air Force said there is not currently an acting chief software officer and referred questions to Chaillan’s LinkedIn post.

Throughout his time in the Air Force, Chaillan pressed acquisition programs to integrate software development and security earlier, and to make it easier to be updated throughout the life cycle to remain relevant. 

“I don’t think we have a choice,” he told Aviation Week in September 2020. “I think if we don’t do it, China and Russia are going to be 20 years ahead. The last 30 years of innovation was driven by hardware. The next 50 [years of innovation] are going to be software-defined. It’s going to be artificial intelligence software that’s going to be able to make decisions before you even have the time to touch the button.”

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.


1 Comment
Get him back in the United States Air Force's Top Software Job and do it fast requesting him to provide his Responsible Estimate of Funding for the Job.