One of the pillars of DevOps is the obliteration of traditional silos, and the ability for cross-functional teams to work together to just get things done. While the concept may be new for developers and businesses, the United States Air Force already demonstrated the power of this philosophy during Operation Desert Storm more than 20 years ago.
“DevOps” – Air Force Style
The US Air Force is configured primarily in separate units, or silos. Generally, a base or wing is comprised of a single type of aircraft. C-130 transports, KC-135 refueling planes, F-15 fighter jets, A-10 ground engagement aircraft, and F-111 bombers each had their own base of operations, and separate command and control infrastructures. During Desert Storm, though, a new Composite Wing was formed, which included a cross-section of all of these aircraft and Air Force resources tasked to work closely together with one chain of command.
Air Force Brigadier General Lee Downer wrote about the formation of, and experience with the Composite Wing in an Airpower Journal article in late 1991. In essence, by removing layers of red tape and bureaucracy, and putting all of the required assets and resources under one command, the 7440th Composite Wing was able to operate with unprecedented efficiency and effectiveness.
Downer concluded with these thoughts: “The 7440th Composite Wing’s achievements are now a part of history. The efforts to get the wing into the war are a special success story that should be told in more detail in the future. As is usually the case, once the decision to go was made, the success of the effort was up to the people who were tasked to make it work. Their accomplishments clearly show that they assumed the challenge with a great deal of enthusiasm and skill. They knew their jobs, did not hesitate to make decisions, and kept improving the operation as they became seasoned and experienced.”
I can speak personally about the success of the 7440th Composite Wing as well. I was serving in the Air Force at the time, and I was deployed to Incirlik AB as a part of the Composite Wing effort for both Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. While my role was traditionally focused on, and restricted to working with F-111 bombers, the exact same technology was also used with other aircraft from other bases.
During Operation Desert Shield, while working as a part of the 7440th Composite Wing, those barriers were removed and I was given the freedom to do what I did best without regard for the aircraft or what base it originated from. It was a much more logical and effective use of resources—in this case the resource being me.
Fast Forward 20 Years
The same concepts and philosophy the US military embraced during Desert Shield form the foundation of the DevOps movement today. The goal is to minimize friction, and empower people to do what they do best with minimal obstacles.
By removing the barriers between different teams and departments, and allowing people to work together in ways that make sense, organizations are able to get more done, in less time, and get it done more efficiently.
You don’t have to create a formal merger of assets and resources like the US Air Force did with the Composite Wing. While it did facilitate better integration, and greater effectiveness, defining the resources of the merged team is its own silo in a way, and still puts limitations on what the new team can accomplish.
You should, however, embrace the essence of the concept—which is to remove obstacles and allow individuals and teams the freedom to share resources, and collaborate together to achieve goals without unnecessary red tape or bureaucracy.