NAVAIR leveraging MOSA in avionics systemsStory
November 20, 2023
The U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) was an early adopter and supporter of the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Technical Standard and is at the forefront of open architecture development and leveraging modular open systems approach strategies (MOSA) in Navy avionics applications. During the MOSA Summit & Expo I sat down with Capt. Jarrod Hair, U.S. Navy, PMA-209 Program Manager, where we covered how NAVAIR leverages MOSA initiatives like FACE, the challenges with data rights, and how the defense community – government and industry – is embracing MOSA. Along those lines, at the NAVAIR booth at the expo, Capt. Hair hosted keynote speaker Hon. Nickolas Guertin, where he led an interactive discussion elaborating on current MOSA efforts in his role as Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. Guertin is a White House nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition.
Edited excerpts of the interview are below.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: Please tell me about your role as Program Manager for the U.S. Navy’s Air Combat Electronics Program Office (PMA-209).
HAIR: I started flying helicopters. First, the SH-60B, then flight test, and then went back out to the Fleet to fly the MH-60R. I gained a great deal of experience actually using NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems Command] systems. The test time was a great bit of insight into how we develop and look at some of those systems. [It] was awesome going back out to the fleet with that experience. After my department-head tour, I wanted to get back into that side of the Navy and how we develop, acquire, and field systems. So that brought me back into NAVAIR and I’ve been in various program offices here since 2015.
Most recently, I was in the Pentagon under ASN RDA [Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition)] staff, which gave me good insight across the portfolio for naval aviation systems. [After that], I was fortunate enough to get picked up for PMA-209, which the Air Combat Electronics program office. We cover a very broad spectrum of systems that go across naval aviation platforms.
We also have systems in other services [such as] the Air Force, and domestic federal agencies as well. Our systems are primarily focused around the flight school basics of “aviate, navigate, communicate.” For the “aviate” part we have safety of flight systems such as TAWS [Terrain Awareness Warning System]. For “navigate” we have Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN), Required Navigation Performance Area Navigation (RNP RNAV), and Tactical Air Moving Map Capability (TAMMAC), and for “communicate” one of the big ones is the ARC 210 radio.
One of the newer areas we are working is the DI MANGL, which stands for Digital Interface (DI) MAGTF Air Network Gateway Link (MANGL). MAGTF stands for Marine Air Ground Task Force.
DI MANGL is a situational-awareness enhancer for the Marine Corps using a tablet device and radios that connect the user to a tablet device and to other users in the network.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: Is that like a JADC2 [Joint All-Domain Command and Control] concept?
HAIR: It’s similar in concept, but it’s not directly connected. [With MANGL] we take different networks and mesh those together with the Gateway link. Then we transmit that to a tablet so the Marines in the air and on the ground can have the same overall situational awareness.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: How does NAVAIR work with the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Technical Standard and when did you adopt it?
HAIR: PMA 209 was an early adopter [of] FACE. Since then, we’ve been working on other open architectures. FACE was incubated in NAVAIR and kicked off in 2010 – which is when the FACE Consortium took it over.
Since adoption, we have ventured more into the open architecture side. One of our efforts within PMA 209 is for the mission computer alternative (MCA), which is a family of government-developed organic mission computers that are open architecture [where] we own all the data rights and we can size the capabilities to the needs of platforms that we work with.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: The FACE Technical Standard has provisions for safety-certification standards such as DO-178C. How does NAVAIR leverage safety-certification standards like DO-178C and DO-254 in their avionics systems? Do you require it?
HAIR: The technical warrant holders at NAVAIR System Safety and Airworthiness don’t strictly require DO-178 or DO-254, as they use the Military Standard (MIL-STD) 882 Level of Rigor processes to establish design assurance for software and complex electronic hardware. However, because the civil and military standards have so much in common, they can, and do, leverage DO-178/254 certifications and artifacts, in part or whole, to satisfy airworthiness requirements for avionics systems. That being said, at this time we at PMA-209 are still working with the technical warrant holders on finding ways to reap the benefits of the FACE Technical Standards for the applicable safety-certification standards.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: I heard the data-rights part discussed at the MOSA [modular open systems approach] Summit and Expo in Atlanta. What does that mean from a government and industry perspective? Why is that so important?
HAIR: With that specifically? The normal model in defense acquisition is the private companies develop systems, they develop equipment, we give our requirements, and they develop items to meet our requirements. We buy the parts, the systems, but we don’t necessarily get all of the data behind those such as the software/hardware information to be able to do the engineering – the actual in-depth remanufacturing needed to be able to do that.
[Data rights] is a piece that I’m learning more about in my role here at PMA-209. What I’d like to evaluate with data rights is where the right level is, as I also understand industry perspective – wanting to keep their proprietary information to themselves. But we need enough information to be able to fully integrate the systems and then recompete for upgrades to address obsolescence as necessary. When leveraging open architectures, if we can get the information we need at the right interface level, we can compete that box or recompete it. Maybe there’s a middle ground there, where we don’t always need to have all of the data.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: From your perspective as a Navy pilot and an engineer: Why are most strategies important and what benefits do those things like FACE and SOSA [Sensor Open Systems Architecture] bring to the warfighter?
HAIR: From the warfighter, aircrew-type perspective, they don’t see whether something is developed using MOSA or other strategies. But what’s important to the warfighter is to be able to have high-quality equipment, high-quality gear that keeps up the pace of technology [insertion] that we need, so the warfighter gets it in a timeline that’s relevant. Those are items that we can reach better with a MOSA-type solution because that enables us to both compete those to get best-of-breed [solutions] for fielding the equipment and allow us to do that integration and fielding faster.
Beyond that, we’re going to continue the MOSA work PMA 209 has been doing well before we got there, which is working with our counterparts in the Army and the Air Force. We’re reaching out to industry and being a part of the overall MOSA effort moving forward so that we can collaborate within the tri-services.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: There was a lot of enthusiasm at the MOSA Summit and Expo. But there are still MOSA doubters or skeptics in the defense world. During a keynote I hosted with David Tremper earlier this year at our MOSA Virtual Summit, he said that metrics are still needed to help DoD [U.S. Department of Defense] leaders make the case against naysayers. How do you convince most skeptics about the value of this approach?
HAIR: I do agree that it is good to have relevant metrics. I would love to have something that is a clear metric that shows schedule gains and cost benefits from using MOSA right now, because of the pace of developing these large defense acquisition systems. That data will take a while to come in. We need to be able to actually implement some of these strategies to get that data.
As far as convincing naysayers or skeptics on this, it’s why we’ve got the experts in PMA 209. They are very familiar with the details of how to support other program offices and getting the MOSA requirements on contract, understanding the engineering detail, understanding the standards, and then working with the programs to be able to show the benefits of increasing competition and making integration quicker and easier.
Outside of the metrics, which will take some time, I think it’s really just hands-on and showing the other program officers, especially on the naval aviation side, how we can help them with MOSA initiatives and the MOSA approach.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: What about communications across the services to push MOSA so there is less duplication of effort?
HAIR: You’re absolutely correct. I think that outside of just MOSA there is big value of forums like this, where we get the other services together.
So far, I’ve had great interactions with counterparts of mine in the Army and the Air Force, with plenty of follow-on conversations scheduled. [This is important] because there can be a tendency for folks to recreate the wheel and then to have the same efforts within multiple silos, which is obviously not a good use of our resources. MOSA allows us – when we have the standard set right – to compete and get products that were intended for the Air Force, intended for the Army, and use those across the board. We also get additional gains of generally increased collaboration within the acquisition fields within the three services.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: What challenges remain for MOSA in aviation programs?
HAIR: I’d say there are a couple of areas: One of them is making sure that we’ve got personnel trained from the contract side, the engineering side, and then with engineering the verification side of MOSA. Being able to set everything up to make that happen is definitely a challenge that we’re [focusing on now].
Another challenge aligned with that is making sure that the people that are acquiring these systems understand the various standards out there and understand where it’s applicable, where they can apply those standards to best use, which ones may or may not be in conflict, and which ones are going to get them the best gain overall in opening up their system to the right vendors. We need to be able to have the right commonalities within the Navy and other services.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: How is PMA 209 leveraging AI [artificial intelligence] solutions?
HAIR: As of right now, nothing specifically but we – the top of my team – are looking to see what solutions may be out there. I haven’t seen anything yet that really jumps out at me [on the avionics side]. But I’m open to looking at different products.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: What was the buzz of the MOSA event in Atlanta? What trends or developments did you see that impressed you?
HAIR: A big, big area that impressed me was the range of vendors that were participating at the MOSA summit and the vendor size – from very small businesses to medium-size to the high-end players that were coming out to tell us what they’re doing in the MOSA space, and how they can best support. They’re really looking like that they are embracing this effort moving forward. Overall, that was incredibly promising, in addition to the alignment that we’re moving toward with the tri-services.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: Does MOSA open up the defense market for companies new to working with DoD programs?
HAIR: Absolutely. I think part of that is making sure that we’re listening to industry, talking to industry. And I see it as actually helping the industrial base by allowing other groups to come in and play into the military-acquisition space.
Some of these vendors [in Atlanta] that I was talking to have just recently moved into the defense market. They started in other areas of the market. This is an opportunity for them to move into defense, which definitely helps us to be able to get more innovation into our systems.
MILITARY EMBEDDED SYSTEMS: In your more than two decades as a pilot and as an engineer, what has been the most significant technology game-changer for military aviation systems during that time?
HAIR: For areas related to me, it is the increased communication links and unmanned systems – and you can’t have the unmanned systems [component] without increasing the communication links.
During my flying time, it was going from steam gauges – circular gauges on the SH 60B, which was sweet at the time – to the MH-60R and jumping on Link 16 and doing SATCOM [satellite communications] and then adding other communication networks. That was a huge change. We were able to coordinate with a significantly larger number of units at the same time. Instead of just talking to one or two other aircraft or one or two other ships, we could be coordinating operations with three or four ships and [could fly] in groups of up to a dozen or more helicopters. So that was huge. Now moving in UAS [uncrewed aerial system] space, we’re using those links and increasing those communication links to be able to control and to work with our unmanned systems. That’s the most significant change since I’ve joined the military and started flying.