Military Embedded Systems

Accelerate open standard adoption to drive warfighter and weapon-system effectiveness


November 19, 2020

Accelerate open standard adoption to drive warfighter and weapon-system effectiveness

By David Jedynak

An optimized investment on a leading program for the greater good of the warfighting enterprise will enable the technology breakout and multidomain convergence essential to increasing warfighter and weapon-system effectiveness for the collective national defense

Warfighter and weapon-system effectiveness is critical for national defense. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Third Offset Strategy – the Pentagon’s drive to pursue next-generation technologies and concepts to assure U.S. military superiority – makes it clear that the continuous deployment and refresh of advanced technologies to the front line is essential in enabling combat platforms to rapidly adapt to changing threats. The Tri-Service Memo of January 2019 – promulgated by the secretaries of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force – directs the use of open standards “…to rapidly share information across domains.” Both the strategy and commanders’ intent are clear; however, we’ve observed that accelerating the adoption of open standard technologies is often slowed by traditional practices, hard-to-quantify benefits, and perceived risks. We believe the best approach is to address these hurdles head-on.

Traditional acquisition methods

The existing acquisition approach for platform technology is well understood: a singular focus on providing a specific capability; one example would be battle-command software running on a physical bolt-on appliqué. This single-purpose approach provides a self-contained materiel solution consisting of a line-replaceable unit (LRU), platform installation kit (IK), training, spares, and the like. These recurring life cycle costs are relatively fixed at the LRU level and are generally well-understood. In some cases, the IK costs as much or more than the LRU itself. The combination of the LRU and IK results in size, weight, and power plus cost (SWaP-C) allocated to the platform.

Is this approach efficient? From a discrete acquisition program complexity and scope standpoint, most likely the answer has been yes. This model has worked in the past to bring relatively small sets of capabilities to existing weapons systems without much integration complexity. Clean lines of separation and limited interaction between each capability are unintended consequences of separate and uncoordinated materiel acquisition solutions.

However, with the drive toward accelerated technology refresh and the convergence of enterprise-wide multidomain services and systems, it’s now critical to streamline how we bring new capabilities to the fight to achieve overmatch. The question today should be how to make the overall delivery of new capabilities to platforms more efficient, and what adjustments to the acquisition approach are needed to ensure the right enabling infrastructure is pre-positioned throughout the enterprise.

Improving the process

Open standards provide clean interfaces. Embracing modular open standards enables rapidly upgradeable systems with the agility to bring the right capabilities needed to see, understand, and act in order to achieve overmatch. That’s a qualitative statement that demands quantitative details. The simplest of these details are size, weight, and quantity of IKs, as shown in Table 1, which compares multiple LRUs versus a single-chassis LRU containing multiple line-replaceable modules (LRMs). For this analysis, assume the single chassis is intended to be a common mounted chassis (CMC) for multiple platforms, sized to fit on a relatively standard radio equipment shelf typical in ground vehicles (15.9 by 12.2 by approximately 8 inches). (Table 1.)

[Table 1 | Multiple LRUs [line-replaceable units] compared with a single-chassis LRU with multiple LRMs [line-replaceable modules.]

From just these three parameters, the benefits of the CMC + LRMs approach is clear: significant size, weight, and IK reductions. The elimination of individual duplicative physical parts (housings, rugged connectors, thermal management, power supplies, etc.) and IKs for each capability drives a significant return of size and weight back to the platform. Reduction of IKs also results in simplification of the platform wire harnessing and commensurate reduction in associated size, cable runs, and weight. Further efficiencies on the order of 10% to 20% are gained with regard to power via consolidation of power supplies.

Cost is a critical parameter for savings. If each IK is estimated at an average of 25% the cost of a capability – a lower estimate given that some IKs are 200% or more the cost of the LRU – then an interesting model can be constructed. Assume the CMC LRU plus IK cost is anywhere from four to six times the cost of an average IK (25% of LRU). Assume also that each LRM cost is about 75% to 80% of an equivalent LRU due to the elimination of LRU-level connectors, housing, and discrete power supplies. Figure 1 shows the overall benefit to the acquisition enterprise in the context of recurring cost. The results are fairly compelling: With a single filled 8-slot CMC, as much as 30% aggregate recurring cost can be saved.

[Figure 1 | Normalized recurring cost comparison of standalone LRUs compared to common mounted chassis with multiple LRMs.]

Of course, realizing all of these SWaP-C benefits requires the CMC LRU to actually serve the technical needs of the environments and anticipate unknown future requirements. From an environmental standpoint, standards provide significant mitigation. The modular form factor at the heart of the U.S. Army C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] Modular Open Suite of Standards (CMOSS) and the Tri-Service-backed Sensor Open Standard Architecture (SOSA) Technical Standard is OpenVPX, which is managed by industry organization VITA and ratified as an ANSI standard. OpenVPX has well-defined electrical, mechanical, and thermal interfaces. This Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 9 modular open standard form factor provides low-risk provisions for the most demanding environments typical across the services.

Anticipating future requirements, the OpenVPX ecosystem has sets of well-defined module interface definitions called profiles, which make interchangeability and upgradeability straightforward, while simplifying drop-in replacement or technology refresh. The module profiles and corresponding backplane slot profiles within a CMC LRU are interconnected with well-defined backplane topologies and capabilities. A subset of these have been captured in the CMOSS and SOSA standards, providing even tighter interface definition for technology refresh and reconfiguration. An example refresh and migration within an 8-slot CMC is shown in Table 2.

[Table 2 | An 8-slot CMC refresh is detailed.]

The technical, cost, and risk reduction benefits are clear; more detailed program and technology-specific examples can always be provided and discussed. The real challenge is that the leading acquisition program for a single new capability will always be at some cost disadvantage if it is also required to deploy the open standard enterprise infrastructure (e.g., CMC) for the collective benefit it provides to other contemporary and emerging requirements. Nevertheless, this strategic bridgehead infrastructure is essential for swiftly deploying new technologies to the field.

David Jedynak is chief technology officer and Technical Fellow for Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions. David joined Curtiss-Wright in 2008 and has focused his expertise in network-centric systems, COTS solutions, and Assured Position, Navigation, and Timing. David actively drives and supports the adoption of open standard architectures for the defense industry to accelerate technology deployment. Prior to joining Curtiss-Wright, David worked in both the automotive electronics and film industries on the forefront of industry-wide migrations to cutting-edge open standard digital architectures. His background includes electrical engineering, astronautical engineering, and project management at UCLA. He currently resides in Austin, Texas.

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