Ada - DoD HOLWG, Col Wm Whitaker, 1993


The development was extraordinarily open. Not only were thousands kept informed, they had a chance to participate, and did. During my chairmanship, I had a mailing list of over 3000 who had contacted me, and many were the contacts for their lab or company. The project was extraordinarily well documented and the documentation was a fundamental working tool, not an after the fact exercise. The requirements were extensively circulated externally, certainly far more so than has any other language effort, before or since. The evolution of the requirements is explicitly revealed in this series of documents. The language comparisons and contract evaluations were published in excruciating detail and are available to the public. These documents have the complete text of all designs and evaluations submitted to the HOLWG. During the polishing process, there were numerous Language Study Notes written and made available to a large community over the ARPANET. Since standardization, there have been hundreds of questions processed by the Ada Rapporteur Group. These range from trivial questions that are answered in the Language Reference Manual (LRM) to complex issues which require a significant binding interpretation. All issues submitted have been addressed, and results were available on the ARPANET, and have been published commercially.

The project was a continuous fight. The Service bureaucracies had to be reminded continuously about the program. Everyone was demanding several languages; they could not imagine Air Force and Navy F-4s being programmed in the same language. There were those who just objected to OSD doing anything technical. The project was under continuous scrutiny and pressure. It survived and prevailed.

My figures through FY 78 for the total funds expended by the program from the beginning through final language selection (FY 76-78 funds - although selection was in FY 79, funding must be allocated at the beginning of a contractual period) and the beginning of the validation effort was $3.550 million, with another $550,000 in related Service programs. I do not offer this as an audited value, but the best number I can find in my records.

Was the project a success? It was prudently run. The language product was on time and within budget, and of very high quality. The public requirements development was a unique success, thanks to the technical leadership of David Fisher. The procurement went smoothly, thanks to Bill Carlson who averted lurking bureaucratic delays. When we started there were more than 450 languages in use in the DoD, each with its a compiler, in almost all cases limited to one machine and weapons system. There is now a single language with more than 450 compilers. Other aspects have come about more slowly than we had hoped. When we started we were worried about a $3 billion a year DoD problem, today it is a $30 billion expense to the DoD. It is hard to make a prima facie case that we stemmed the "high cost of software". However, the growth of total software costs reflects the growth of hardware capabilities permitting (or demanding) more software. I believe that as a result of the HOLWG program, software productivity and quality is improving steadily. It may be taking longer than we had hoped.

I expected a certain natural conservative reluctance on the part of military System Program Offices to adopt a new language in the early days, and even some diehard opposition to be subdued only slowly through direction. However, upon adoption of the common language, I had envisioned a rapid growth of components and tools within a cooperating community, an Ada Culture. It did not happen as quickly as I had hoped. "Repository" is now a universal buzzword, but DoD contracting limits (and the mindset that these have built up) long strangled the vision for cooperation and growth. I mistakenly thought that with the influence of the DoD we could pull it off. The thrust of cooperative development struggled and faded, several times. But there are other achievements that exceeded our original expectations. The language itself is better than we could have hoped. There is a lot more structure in the community, much of which this project injected. Reuse is happening.

In summary I think we did a good job. I think the project was run well and is an example for the world. For Ada, acceptance is not what the computer science community thinks of it, or whether it is popular on home computers, the question is what does DoD, NATO, NASA, FAA, etc. think. Ada is a success. For evaluating a common language, the users are projects, not programmers, and such users are conservative. They will use what they have used previously because they know it, or use whatever the contractor wants. It takes time to bring the community over, even with direction from above. Most projects in DoD started with it because it was mandated; however, many commercial and foreign firms have adopted it without such influence. For large systems, there is no comparable capability. After experience with Ada, managers and programmers are enthusiastic.

Our goal was to create a common language for DoD software. On November 5, 1990, the President signed the 1991 Appropriation Bill (Public Law 101-511), which reads in Section 8092:

"Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, after June 1, 1991, where cost effective, all Department of Defense software shall be written in the programming language Ada, in the absence of special exemption by an official designated by the Secretary of Defense."