INDUSTRY Public Sector, Federal Government
COUNTRY United States

The United States Air Force transforms its mission critical logistics system over two decades of continuous innovation and delivery.

Services Provided: Defense & Intelligence

Business need:

The United States Air Force (USAF) needed to modernise its 50-year-old legacy mainframe supply chain platform to reduce operating costs, improve system agility and ensure full mission readiness of its bases around the world.


Through a partnership spanning nearly 20 years, the USAF and NTT DATA modernised software development methods, re-platformed a complex proprietary system and pivoted a mission critical enterprise logistics platform to the USAF cloud.


  • Supports $18B in inventory for over 100,000 direct and indirect users worldwide
  • Accelerates platform modernisation with transition from waterfall to Agile
  • Transforms system from a customised COBOL on Unisys platform to Java on Red Hat Enterprise Linux
  • Migrates hierarchical database to Oracle relational database
  • Eliminates footprint on a cluster of five legacy mainframes
  • Migrates a 120+ server, 5TB production environment to AWS GovCloud/USAF Cloud One
  • Saves $25M annually on hosting costs
  • Expands to monthly software releases using Agile delivery model
  • Ensures future agility with security through DevSecOps
  • Continues a nearly 20-year partnership with USAF
  • </ul

The United States Air Force implemented Agile software development workflows to make ILS-S a modern, high-performance logistics management platform supporting mission needs in near real-time.

Our nation’s defence relies on robust logistics systems to support around-the-clock mission readiness. The criticality of those systems is often taken for granted – until they cease to function properly.

The USAF operates one of the world’s largest and most complex logistics systems: the USAF Integrated Logistics Systems-Supply (ILS-S). Over 100,000 direct and indirect users rely on the ILS-S to provide daily supply and equipment support for wartime flying missions 24x7x365 at 250 USAF, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard facilities worldwide.

NTT DATA has supported the USAF ILS-S for nearly two decades with a focus on continuously transforming its capabilities through new technologies. Together, the USAF ILS-S Program Office and its supporting contracting team including NTT DATA, Array Information Technology, Inc., Datum Government Solutions, DSD Laboratories, LMI, THE CENTECH GROUP, Inc. and The Software Revolution, Inc. (TSRI) have worked together to:

  • Introduce and implement Agile software development workflows to accelerate and expand ILS-S capabilities.
  • Create a pioneering continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) delivery model to further accelerate ILS-S capabilities.
  • Modernise the Standard Base Supply System (SBSS) – a core component of ILS-S – by re-platforming the SBSS from a COBOL-based system running on outdated mainframes into a modern, open standard JAVA on Red Hat Linux platform.
  • Transform ILS-S from an on-premise environment into an elastic, secure cloud deployment on the USAF Cloud One Amazon Web Services (AWS) GovCloud.

The result? Today, the ILS-S is a modern, high-performance logistics management platform supporting USAF mission needs in near real-time.

Giving wings to Agile

Historically, the USAF managed its software development lifecycle using a waterfall model. But the USAF sought a faster way to develop software as the requirements of the ILS-S grew to keep pace with our adversaries. In 2005 and 2006, USAF sought NTT DATA’s help in blending Agile processes into development work on the ILS-S to quickly adapt to changing requirements.

The hybrid blend of waterfall and Agile workflows enabled the USAF and NTT DATA’s public sector modernisation team to create a continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline for the ILS-S. The CI/CD pipeline greatly increased the quality and delivery speed of functional improvements to the system. The move towards Agile and CI/CD formed the groundwork for a future effort – a complex modernisation of the key component of ILS-S.

Taming the 'Beast'

The ILS-S is a massive system built from several sub-systems, all tightly integrated to process over 60 million annual business transactions required to maintain USAF readiness. The core of the ILS-S is a critical supply and equipment production system called the Standard Base Supply System (SBSS).

The SBSS was designed in the mid-1960s – its operation required over a million lines of Assembler code running on over 100 proprietary Univac 1050 mainframes across the Air Force. Over time, computing moved beyond mainframes and the demands on the performance of the SBSS increased. That combination of platform and complexity earned SBSS the nickname, the 'Beast'. The prospects of modernising the Beast were so daunting that it became the principal subject of an academic text produced by Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute on modernising legacy systems.

In 2015, the USAF determined that after 50 years of managing rising operating costs and a diminishing COBOL labour force, SBSS had to be modernised to make it affordable, sustainable and, ultimately, cloud ready. But the mission-critical nature of the SBSS meant migrating to a new platform had to be done with minimum down time and no loss of data, functionality and performance.

NTT DATA’s experience with the ILS-S environment provided critical guidance to the ILS-S contracting team. They chose to re-platform SBSS onto a Red Hat Enterprise Linux/Java architecture. That option took advantage of automated COBOL-to-Java code conversion tools, blended waterfall/Agile methodologies and extensive use of the continuous integration and deployment delivery model. NTT DATA invested its resources in a proof of concept to ensure the viability of its proposed solution, thus, substantially reducing the risk to the USAF in what was essentially a 'no fail' mission.

The team accomplished the SBSS re-platforming on time and under budget. It delivered an open standard platform that met or exceeded the original SBSS performance specifications and eliminated the need to maintain 5 legacy proprietary mainframes. This led to a $25 million reduction in annual hosting costs.

With the SBSS re-platformed to a flexible, open standard environment and the software development teams now empowered with significant Agile capabilities, the ILS-S program pivoted to the cloud for further modernisation.

Into the clouds

The USAF continuously innovates by adopting new digital technologies that will amplify mission readiness while driving down operational costs. In 2017, USAF launched an initiative to take advantage of the cloud.

The USAF chose to migrate ILS-S to the AWS GovCloud, accessed through the USAF’s Cloud One. NTT DATA’s development team partnered with Datum Government Solutions, Array Information Technology, Inc. and THE CENTECH GROUP, Inc. to provide the technical leadership to migrate the entire ILS-S staging and production environment, including more than 120 servers and 5TB of operational data, to Cloud One. The deployment was 100% automated using Infrastructure as Code delivered via a comprehensive CI/CD pipeline extending from development through the production environment. The team migrated the system over a single weekend.

This cloud transformation empowered the long-standing partnership between USAF and NTT DATA with new opportunities to expand the value of ILS-S – including tools to implement DevSecOps, automated CI/CD and monthly production software updates using Agile.

The USAF and NTT DATA have digitally transformed the ILS-S over a period of nearly 20 years and through multiple contract transitions. Together, they have delivered the technical leadership required to successfully transition the mission critical ILS-S from waterfall to Agile, migrate a legacy system to a modern platform and successfully migrate that to the cloud with even more improvements on the horizon.